Heathrow Airport

Heathrow Airport (IATA: LHR) is in the west of London (17 miles or 27 km from central London), one of the world's busiest airports; the busiest in the world in terms of international passenger traffic, the largest airport in the United Kingdom and home of the national carrier, British Airways.

Understand

Heathrow Terminal 5A

London Heathrow (LHR) is a giant, sprawling airport divided into four terminals (T2, T3, T4 and T5). Originally established in the late 1940s, it is London's primary airport and the premier air gateway into the United Kingdom. It is also the busiest airport in the world for international passenger traffic and Europe's foremost hub airport.

Due to its size, increased security requirements and the fact that development had not kept pace with its growth, Heathrow has became overcrowded and has developed a reputation for long queues, inefficiency and delays. However, since Terminal 5 opened in March 2008, and despite initial problems with the brand new terminal, this situation has improved. Terminal 2, the airport's original terminal, closed in November 2009 for demolition and rebuilding and reopened under the name of "The Queen's Terminal" in June 2014. Terminal 1 closed permanently on 29 June 2015 and will be absorbed into Terminal 2.

Flights

Countries served by flights from London Heathrow Airport

There is currently a long, drawn out game of musical terminals being played by the airlines at Heathrow: British Airways is gradually moving all of its flights to Terminals 5 and 3. While British Airways is doing this the other airlines are moving round to better use the space that has been vacated. Eventually the idea is that all of the airline alliances (Oneworld, Star Alliance and SkyTeam) will have their "own" terminal which their members use, thus minimising the number of connecting passengers who have to change to a different terminal. Terminal 2, the oldest and smallest terminal, was closed for a time for upgrade works and reopened on 4 June 2014. Terminal 1 closed permanently on 29 June 2015. British Airways operates from T3 and T5. As of August 2015:

Make sure you double check which terminal you need to use on the Heathrow Airport website as the situation changes frequently!

Ground transportation

By car

The airport is some 17 miles (27 km) west of central London. A large part of the journey can be made by means of the M4 motorway, which can, however, be quite congested at peak periods. Terminal 5 can be reached directly from junction 14 of the M25. The airport is also near the M40 and M3.

The car rental depots are all concentrated along the northern periphery of the airport, and free shuttle buses are available from all terminals. There can be time delays when arriving at the hire desk with large queues so make every effort to get to the desk before the crowd, perhaps by getting one member of the party with hand luggage to go straight through. You may find at early morning or late evening that the arrivals hall desk is closed and you have to go straight onto the shuttle bus and check out your rental at the depot instead.

Bear in mind if you are intending to drive into the centre of London you will be liable for the Congestion Charge, which is currently £11.50 per day and applies on weekdays (Monday-Friday) between 07:00-18:00. Automatic number plate recognition cameras are in operation, and your car rental company will track you down and bill you with the hefty fine if you fail to pay - you have been warned!

Parking your car

Different car parks have different procedures. There is no shortage of choice when parking your car at Heathrow but there are many procedures to follow depending on which car park you choose. Some simply get you to turn up and report to a reception area which is easy enough. However some others have different procedures such as using the credit card you used to pre book with to enter the car park or even registration plate recognition.

There is also a massive difference in the prices charged by many car parks in and around Heathrow. For example, you can find individual house owners in the vicinity of the airport who are happy to rent you a space outside their house for a week or two and it’s usually very cheap in comparison to the large car park operators; however, this is definitely a case of "buyer beware"!

Of course, there is no security at these spaces – you get what you pay for to some extent – plus you often find that you are left to your own devices to get to the airport. This could mean public transport if you’re lucky, but more often than not, it means getting a taxi both there and back. This usually results in negating any of the cost savings you have made in the parking itself.

Public transport to and from London

Rail and tube lines go to different terminals at Heathrow

All the terminals have very good public transport links to and from central London, with options ranging from local and express buses to the London Underground and rail services. The majority of travellers heading to central London use public transport as it the easiest way to go. Note that there are different rail stations for the five terminals at Heathrow - be sure you take the right train as not all trains go to the same terminals. You can usually check the front of the train or listen to the onboard announcements for an idea of where the train is going.

By train

The trains are air-conditioned, modern, comfortable and are fully accessible with a wheelchair area, disabled toilet and level access to the station platforms. Free Wi-Fi Internet access is available on board. Mobile phone coverage is available throughout the entire route, including in the tunnels under Heathrow. On board TV entertainment plays throughout the journey, offering BBC News bulletins, destination information, comedy clips and trivia. Quiet zones are available where this does not play. There are two classes of accommodation - Express (Standard) Class and First Class. First Class offers a larger seat, more legroom (though there’s plenty in Express Class), tables and complimentary newspapers. The First Class area of the train also stops closer to the station exits. Since the journey is only about 15 minutes long either way, the First Class area is something of a real luxury and really only for those with money to burn.

Fares can be purchased in advance on the internet, from the station or on board the train and they vary in price depending on where you bought them. National Railcard discounts are available at Heathrow Express station ticket offices only (with the exception of Disabled Persons Railcard, which can be used on-board). Child fares (5–15 years inclusive) are about half the adult fare. Under 5s travel free. If you book your ticket online you can have it sent to you as an email message to print out or as a mobile phone picture message, both contain a barcode and the conductor scans this on the train.

London Travelcards and Oyster Cards are not valid on the Heathrow Express.

The trains are air-conditioned, modern and accessible with a wheelchair area and disabled toilet. Although Heathrow and London Paddington stations have step free access, be aware that not all intermediate stations are wheelchair accessible. Audio and visual journey information is provided on board. Mobile phone coverage is available throughout the route, including in the tunnels under Heathrow.

NB: Tickets must be purchased before boarding the train (tickets will be checked on board and those found not to be holding a ticket will have to pay a penalty fare) and can be bought at station ticket offices or online (only to London Paddington). Child fares (5–15 years inclusive) are about half the adult fare. Under 5s travel free.

By tube

London Underground’s Piccadilly Line direct to central London. Up to every 5 minutes (dependent on terminal). Oyster cards are valid.

The Piccadilly Line runs direct from all the terminals to the very centre of London, stopping at stations close to many of London’s landmarks, shopping and entertainment areas, as well as the major transport hub at King’s Cross St. Pancras. It stops frequently and is comparatively slow (60 minutes from Terminal 5 to King’s Cross St. Pancras vs 45 minutes using the Heathrow Express and changing to The Tube at Paddington). However, it is an integral part of Transport for London’s network so Travelcards and Oyster Cards are valid, making it a good value option. It’s also a fairly quick option if you want to get to much of west London.

Trains depart Terminals 4 & 5 every 10 minutes and stop at Terminals 2 & 3 before continuing to London, thus making the frequency from Terminals 2 & 3 every 5 minutes. Trains to and from Terminal 5 do not stop at Terminal 4 and trains to and from Terminal 4 do not stop at Terminal 5. Be aware that if you are heading from central London to Terminals 2 & 3 then it is normally quicker to wait for a train which terminates at Terminal 5 as the trains to Terminal 4 wait there for up to 7 minutes before continuing to Terminals 2 & 3. Terminal 5 trains go directly to Terminals 1 & 3 first, then continue to Terminal 5. The Tube closes during the night for maintenance work and the first trains leave Heathrow at about 06:00. Last trains are around 00:00, but check beforehand!

Be aware that during peak rush hour periods the Tube becomes extremely overcrowded, particularly in the central zones. Trains originally designated for Heathrow are sometimes rerouted down the Rayners Lane branch or terminate short at Acton Town or Northfields to deal with peak-hour congestion - the driver will normally make an announcement if this is going to happen. You should bear this in mind if you are using the Tube to travel to Heathrow during rush hour and ensure that you leave central London in plenty of time. Also, try to join the train as far up the line as possible - King's Cross St Pancras is a good bet - since you will stand a much better chance of finding a seat and somewhere to put your luggage.

As the Tube is a rapid transport system designed with short journeys in mind, the trains are not as comfortable as a mainline train. However, from Heathrow there will almost always be seats available and luggage space is provided. There is space for wheelchairs and the Heathrow stations are accessible, but as the Tube is an old system originally built in the 19th century, very few stations in central London are accessible to wheelchairs. Almost all involve negotiating staircases and escalators. Earls Court is an exception and some other stations can be reached by wheelchair users by changing to alternate lines here. More stations are being adapted (King’s Cross St. Pancras is now accessible, for instance) and accessible stations are shown on the Tube Map available on TfL’s website . Audio and visual journey information is provided on board.

The Tube is a closed system and nearly all stations have ticket barriers. Tickets should be bought at the station and the cost of a Zone 1 - 6 (Central London - Heathrow) single is £4.50. Penalty fares are in force for those caught without a valid ticket. Travelcards (day, or period tickets which allow unlimited travel on all of London’s public transport, not just the Tube) are available and will almost certainly provide better value if you plan on using London’s transport system more than a couple of times. The cheapest option for anyone spending much time in London will probably be to get an Oyster Card (a Transport for London travel smartcard), which is always cheaper and easier than paying fares in cash. See the London article and Transport for London’s website for more information on Oyster Cards and other available fares.

By coach

By bus

Day time local buses to the areas surrounding Heathrow.

In the day time there are no local bus services to central London (that service is provided by the Tube), but there are plenty of services to areas of west London and outlying towns such as Slough and Maidenhead. Heathrow Airport have a map and journey planners on their website showing the routes available.

Fares vary depending on the operator, but Transport for London services (red buses) are subject to the standard flat fare when paying by cash (Travelcards and Oyster Cards are also valid on these buses).

If you really want to go by local bus during the day from central London (perhaps you have a bus pass not valid on trains or coaches), expect a journey time of about three hours, depending on exactly where you start from. If you're intrepid, use the TfL journey planner to find details, times and (most importantly) where to change buses, which you may end up doing three or four times depending on where you start from and when you travel.

N9 Regular late night London Bus Service.

During the night, when most of the rail and coach links (and the flights!) have stopped operating, one of the few ways you can get to and from Heathrow is by using the N9 night bus service, which operates to and from Aldwych in central London via Hammersmith.

The service runs every 20 minutes on weeknights and takes around 1 hour and 10 minutes to Heathrow Central Bus Station and continues to Terminal 5. The service is operated using modern, accessible, low-floor busses with a wheelchair space.

The N9 is a normal Transport for London Night Bus service and so is subject to a flat cash fare of £2.00. All Travelcards and Oyster Cards are valid on London Bus services.

By taxi

If you are thinking of taking a taxi into London then consider the Heathrow Express (you can pick up a taxi at Paddington station to complete your journey). They will probably be faster and cheaper, and almost as easy to use.

Public transport to the rest of the UK

By coach

Connections with trains:

By train

Wikivoyage has a guide to Rail travel in the United Kingdom.

Heathrow does not yet have any direct rail services to anywhere outside of London, meaning that you will have to go into the centre of the city and then come back out again, but making a connection in one of the central London railway stations is fairly easy.

Through tickets are available to & from Heathrow Airport from any station in the UK, using either the Tube network, Heathrow Express or Connect from central London or the RailAir coach links. If you want to use the Heathrow Express it’ll probably be cheaper to buy your ticket for it separately. Make sure you specify the method you want to use to reach Heathrow when you buy your rail ticket.

All of the major railway stations are also on the Tube network, making cross-London connections from Paddington fairly straightforward. Below is a quick summary of the principal connections available:

If you plan on travelling on the Great Western line to the South West of England or South Wales then another option is to take the local U3 bus from the Central Bus Station to West Drayton railway station. The bus takes around 20 minutes to complete this journey when there is no traffic. From there take a local train to Reading railway station in order to connect to other services. The benefit of this route is that you are buying a normal railway ticket, as opposed to one that has a premium attached for a journey starting or ending at Heathrow.

For information, time and fares for trains to & from Heathrow Airport check the National Rail Enquires website.

See By coach sub-section for connections via coach services.

By taxi

There are many airport transfer services that provide personal transport services to Heathrow Airport. All transport companies that operate transfer services must be licensed with the relevant local authority. Drivers are issued a badge after undergoing various checks and vehicles are issued licenses confirming that they have passed rigorous safety checks and have the correct insurance in place. Drivers and vehicles are licensed as either Hackney Carriages or Private Hire, each one is covered by different regulations. When booking an airport transfer you should always check that the company has a license from the council. This is particularly important when booking over the internet or over the phone. Booking directly with a taxi company rather than with an online booking agency will usually be more cost effective.

Get around

As it's such a difficult to understand and constantly changing place Heathrow has a significant internal transport system so people can get around. All travel within the airport boundary on local bus and Heathrow Express & Connect trains is free:

It's always good to have a little extra time when transferring from one flight to another, and this is true especially in a place like Heathrow. On a really busy day or during inclement weather your plane may not be allowed to land at its scheduled time, therefore two or three hours is certainly not "too much" time, especially if your next flight departs from another terminal.

Wait

None of the terminals have a viewing gallery that is accessible from landside, but the Heathrow Academy on the Northern Perimeter Road has a viewing deck which gives good views of the northern runway (27R/9L). It is adjacent to the Renaissance Hotel, and the buses within the airport campus (numbers 105, 111, 140 and 235) stop at the deck.

Hatton Cross tube station is also a good spot for viewing the end of the runways, depending on what time of day the aircraft are landing or departing.

Eat and Drink

There are restaurants and fast food outlets in the departure areas of all five terminals, though, like most airports, the food can be overpriced.

Terminal 3

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Terminal 4

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Terminal 5

Budget

Heathrow Airport and British Airways are trying to give their new terminal a feeling of quality so you won't find any of your regular, cheap high-street fast food joints in T5. There are a few places where you can grab a bite to eat without breaking the bank though:

Mid-range

Splurge

Buy

Harrods at Heathrow.

Amongst its other attributes as an excellent orienteering course and exercise facility, Heathrow is also something of a haven for shoppers with branches of shops from the British high-street and beyond, including the London icons Harrods and Hamleys.

Connect

Internet access

The entire airport is covered by a Boingo Wireless network. Prices are as normal for any Boingo hotspot (currently a fairly steep £9.95 per day, £5.95 per hour or £14.95 per month). Most airline lounges will offer free wifi and this does sometimes leak out into areas just outside the lounge. BA's BT Openzone provided free hotspot used to be a prime example of this however the airline began applying a password which changes monthly in 2010. If you have a BT Openzone account however you can still make use of the wifi with your account.

Cope

Showers are available to travellers in both Terminals 3 and 4.

Multi-faith prayers rooms exist in each Heathrow terminal and the airport has its own Christian, interdenominational chapel located landside.

Sleep

Nearby

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Tuesday, March 08, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.