London’s Heathrow Airport can seem unfathomable if you don’t use it very often.
The trick to taming it? Follow the advice of the experts, right here. MailOnline Travel has asked frequent fliers from aviation sites, British Airways and American Airlines employees, etiquette expert William Hanson and Heathrow Airport’s Director of Customer Relations and Service for their top tips for the hub.
Read on and you’ll learn about a lounge seat known as ‘The Throne’, a secret tunnel in T5, a pub app you can use to order pints of beer, restaurants with ’15-minute’ menus, ‘in-flight picnics’ that mean you can sit in economy class with a business class feast, fast-track security revelations and much more…
London’s Heathrow Airport (pictured) can seem unfathomable if you don’t use it very often. Luckily, we’ve asked the experts how to get to grips with it…
Food and drink
In a rush? Then head to one of the restaurants at Heathrow that offers a ‘15-minute’ menu, says Liz Hegarty, Heathrow Director of Customer Relations and Service.
She says that there is a variety – ‘Terminal 5’s Gordon Ramsay Plane Food, Terminal 2’s The Perfectionists’ Café, created by Heston Blumenthal, Comptoir Libanais in Terminal 4 and French Brasserie Oriel in Terminal 3’.
Want a quiet spot to eat, perhaps with great views of the planes?
Our tipsters have it covered.
‘The Pret a Manger by Gate 2 is always much quieter than the central one in T5A,’ says Alan Lowe, BA’s Worldwide Service Cabin Director, ‘and it’s a great place to view planes taking off and landing on the northern runway. Plus, there are some seats to the side of the gates in front of air conditioner units that are private and hidden away.’
The view from Caffè Nero in Terminal 5
Thomas Boon, Content Manager at simpleflying.com, says: ‘If you like watching airplanes, the Caffè Nero in Terminal 5 is great. Depending on the time of day and the wind directions [as these affect runway use], you can see planes fly right past the window.
Tim Lai, from pointstobemade.com, supplied a nugget regarding Heathrow’s Wetherspoons – and the chain’s rather handy app, which lets you order food, and pints.
He says: ‘Good for price and fast service are the two Wetherspoons pubs at Heathrow – Terminal 5’s airside The Crown Rivers and Terminal 2’s landside The Flying Chariot.
‘The trick for speed is to use the Wetherspoons mobile app to order and pay your food while you are sitting at your table, so you can watch your bags and don’t have to queue. The app jumps you straight to the front and they will deliver the order, even if it’s just a pint, to you. Extremely handy.’
Liz Hegarty adds that the Heathrow app enables you to pre-order food and drink in participating restaurants and set a time for pick-up.
Also on the menu at Heathrow is the opportunity to purchase an in-flight picnic which means, explains Michele Robson from turningleftforless.com, you can sit in economy with a business class-standard meal.
These hampers are available from Pret and Eat across all terminals and from Gordon Ramsay Plane Food and Fortnum & Mason in Terminal 5.
It’s possible to buy in-flight picnic hampers so you can feast business-class style in economy
MailOnline’s etiquette expert William Hanson recommends T5’s Fortnum & Mason for a bite
And while we’re on the subject of Fortnum & Mason, here’s some advice from MailOnline’s etiquette expert William Hanson, who is about to embark on his first solo theatre tour: ‘Sorry, BA – your new Club World cabin has upped your lie-flat luxury game considerably but you next need to invest some money in revamping the Silver and Gold lounges at T5.
‘They are always packed, the food on offer is only one up from a roadside-caff, and the chairs and sofas are knackered.
‘For the past year I have entertained myself instead at Fortnum & Mason’s outlet just before the escalators to the south lounges. Efficient at-seat service, a limited but tasty menu and far superior tea and coffee.’
For more information on Heathrow’s restaurants, cafes and pubs, click here.
Lounges – the best, the worst, the most convenient
The Plaza Premium Lounge is located near Gate A7 in Heathrow’s Terminal 5. You don’t need a business class ticket to use it – but you do need to pay
Think you need to be flying business or first to use a lounge? Think again.
BA Dreamliner first officer Joffy Hall says that there are pay-to-use lounges in T5, for example, in T5A.
He says: ‘The Plaza Premium Lounge is located near Gate A7 and the Aspire Lounge is located near Gate A18. Domestic flights usually go from gates between A1 and A8, so the Plaza Premium Lounge will generally be a shorter walk for domestic flights.’
Of these, Rob Burgess from www.headforpoints.com says that the Plaza Premium is ‘far better regarded than Aspire’ but that both ‘can be a pleasant alternative to spending money in one of the bars or restaurants, and if you want a couple of drinks you may even save money’.
Another gem is the British Airways Galleries Lounge in Terminal 5B.
The Qantas lounge in T3 (pictured) is highly regarded in the frequent flier community
Thomas Boon from simpleflying.com says: ‘If travelling through Terminal 5 and eligible for lounge access, I’d highly recommend the Galleries Lounge in Terminal 5B. It’s quieter as most people go to the ones in the main terminal. However, be aware that the information screens only show flights leaving from 5B and 5C, so if you’re leaving from Terminal 5A, your flight won’t be shown on the screens.’
Rob Burgess, meanwhile, isn’t finished with his lounge advice.
He adds: ‘The independent Plaza Premium lounge in T2, which you can pay to use, is regularly voted “Best Independent Airport Lounge In The World”.
‘The best lounge, for Star Alliance premium passengers, is the United Club in the satellite. However, there is no shuttle train in T2, unlike T5, so you need to factor in a 15-minute walk each way if you want to try it but are actually flying from the main terminal.’
And in Terminal 3?
Rob says: ‘Very few British Airways passengers know that, if they qualify to use the tatty British Airways lounges they can also use the far superior Qantas and Cathay Pacific lounges too. BA Gold cardholders can access the Cathay Pacific First Class Lounge, which has a free waiter-service restaurant among its benefits.’
The fabled ‘Throne’ seats at the Cathay Pacific Lounge in Terminal 3
Travel expert Gilbert Ott says the ‘Throne seat’ (pictured) is the ‘place of dominance for a first class or Oneworld Emerald flyer’
Tim Lai is also a fan of the Cathay Pacific Lounge, which he says has a seat nicknamed ‘The Throne’ by the travel hacking community – reclining chairs with amazing runway views.
Gilbert Ott, who runs the flight tips site God Save The Points, says that the ‘throne seat’ is the place of dominance for any first class or Oneworld Emerald flyer in T3.
Gilbert’s own lounge-tips locker contains the following: ‘BA serves champagne in all lounges, you just have to ask a member of staff in the business class lounges. It’s not on display. And the Qantas lounge in T3 sometimes hides particularly good wines behind the bar, not on display. Ask if they’re pouring anything interesting on the day.
‘In T2, the Singapore Airlines SilverKris business class lounge offers the best Asian food and drinks, while the [aforementioned] United Club lounge offers a better space to relax.’
Let’s start with some uplifting advice about reaching the terminals from the Tube platforms.
Over to Liz Hegarty from Heathrow.
She says: ‘This is not a secret – but it really is quicker to wait for the lifts from the Tube platforms at Terminals 2 and 3, Terminal 5 and from the subway to Terminal 2. It’s always tempting to keep moving but the escalators do take longer, especially with luggage.’
If in doubt, says Nicky Kelvin, Director of Content at The Points Guy UK – ‘watch where the crew go!’
It’s always quicker to wait for the lifts from the Tube platforms at Terminals 2 and 3, Terminal 5 and from the subway to Terminal 2
Ms Hegarty also has some handy advice about how to move from terminal to terminal landside and airside. Should you end up at the wrong one – or just fancy exploring.
She says: ‘Landside, there are train connections every 15 minutes between our terminals that you can use for free simply by using free terminal transfer tickets. There are also free buses travelling directly between Terminal 4 and Terminal 5.’
BA’s 787 pilot Joffy Hall has specific intel on this subject, pointing out that the best way to travel between these terminals is to use the 482 and 490 buses from bus stand 7 at T5 and bus stand 7 at T4.
Back to Ms Hegarty: ‘Airside, inter-terminal buses will take you to the necessary terminal. Just ask one of our passenger ambassadors – easily recognisable by their purple uniforms – to direct you to the nearest stop.’
Tim Lai agrees that airside terminal-to-terminal moves are a cinch, but warns that you’ll need to be security screened again: ‘It’s pretty easy to transfer airside if you have your boarding pass. Just follow the inter-terminal transfer signs and you will be taken to a bus shuttle service to get you to the other terminals. Be prepared to go through security again when you arrive at the next terminal though.’
Rob Burgess adds: ‘If you were planning to take the Heathrow Express, remember that the TFL Rail service from Paddington is only a few minutes slower and far cheaper. It does not go to Terminal 5 however. On the upside, it does go to T4, which Heathrow Express does not.’
If you’re travelling to Terminal 5, the Heathrow Express is a good bet, as the TFL Rail service doesn’t go there
Next, our tipsters reveal some handy advice about which gates take the longest to get to – including information on a secret tunnel link to T5’s satellite terminals.
Over to Ms Hegarty first.
She says: ‘We always advise you leave more time if you see you need to go to a satellite terminal (both in Terminal 2 and Terminal 5). C61 or C66 are the two gates at the end of the furthest satellite terminal in Terminal 5.
‘In Terminal 2, gate 41 is the gate furthest away from the main terminal, however, flights departing from there are right next to the southern runway, which may mean less taxiing time once you are on the plane.
‘In Terminal 3, gate 42 is the furthest walk however if your flight is using this gate you get lovely views of our control tower.
‘In Terminal 4, gate 25 is the furthest walk away.’
Itching to know about the aforementioned secret tunnel?
It’s below the transit train that most people hop on to get to the B and C gates in Terminal 5.
You just need to take the elevator to level –4 to reach it.
Rob Burgess says: ‘This can be a handy alternative to the shuttle train at peak times and, as it is usually deserted, is a slightly spooky experience too, especially for children! More often than not it’s actually quicker than the train for a healthy individual and also excellent for increasing your step count before/after a long flight!’
Thomas Boon from simpleflying.com also says it’s quicker – and has even conducted a race to prove this – but note that Heathrow’s Ms Hegarty claims the shuttle will normally cut the journey time in half.
Heathrow offers pre-booked fast-track security for all passengers, regardless of their ticket type
Negotiating security lanes is always stressful.
Follow these tips to make it less so.
Heathrow’s Ms Hegarty explains that the hub ‘offers a service called “Fast Track Security” where passengers – no matter what type of ticket they hold – can pre-book a priority service through security. Bookings must be made at least one day before travel and can be done via the Heathrow website’.
And Rob Burgess says: ‘In T5 there is a virtually deserted fast-track security lane which is totally separate to the two main security areas in T5. It is at the very north end of the terminal. Handily, it is directly opposite the lifts from the Tube and Heathrow Express. If you have BA Silver or Gold status, or are travelling in business or first class, you should use this.’
Gilbert Ott recommends buying decent Champagne at the duty-free shops
Mr Ott points out that duty-free prices at Heathrow are ‘genuinely better than most airports, so Champagne is almost always a wise purchase, especially the high-end stuff’.
He’s also a fan of the hub’s personal shopping services: ‘Personal shopping can be a great way to spend time, and you’re not obligated to buy. It beats sitting in a chair. ‘
Fancy some free pampering? Ms Hegarty reveals that the World Duty Free shops across the terminals offer lots, ‘from free hand and arm massages at Jo Malone to instant facial lifts at Clarins’.
Travel expert Thomas Boon is a fan of the Harry Potter shop in Terminal 5 (pictured)
And many people don’t realise that you can visit shops not available in the terminal you’re travelling from.
Ms Hegarty explains that you can pre-book a member of the shopping services team to escort you to shops in another terminal, as long as you’re spending £250 or more and you have three hours to spare before your flight.
Thomas Boon, meanwhile, gives a shout-out to the Harry Potter shop in Terminal 5, which he says is ‘a tad expensive’, but has ‘a gift for every occasion’.
Michele Robson from turningleftforless.com adds that the new Runway bar at the Hilton Garden Inn at T2 (pictured) has ‘fantastic views of the airfield and an aviation theme’
The entrance to the Runway bar
Rob Burgess says: ‘A lot of good cheap hotels have opened in the past couple of years that are directly connected to the terminals. No shuttle bus required.
‘Cheap options include Premier Inn Terminal 4, Holiday Inn Express Terminal 4 and Hilton Garden Inn Terminal 2.’
Michele Robson from turningleftforless.com adds that the new Runway bar at the Hilton Garden Inn at T2 has ‘fantastic views of the airfield and an aviation theme’.
And some sage advice about hotel bus transfers – avoid the ‘Hotel Hoppa’ bus, says Mr Burgess, because it costs £5.50 per person each way. Instead, just jump on a local bus. They’re all free in the vicinity of Heathrow.
He adds: ‘Heathrow’s website has a map showing all the local bus routes which are free and which ones stop outside which hotels.’
Want the best view of London on the approach for those all-important snaps?
American Airlines says: ‘Sit on the right-hand side of the aircraft to increase your chances of capturing an amazing photo of London’s skyline. When aircraft are landing towards the west, they usually fly right over the city, following the Thames all the way into Heathrow. You can capture amazing photos of Canary Wharf and the O2, The London Eye, Tower Bridge and everything in between.’