How to navigate Heathrow Airport like a pro

By Samantha Shillabeer
With two runways, four terminals and almost 80 million travellers passing through every year, London’s Heathrow Airport is a bit of a beast.

If you’re used to flying in and out of smaller airports, the first time here can be a bit overwhelming – especially if you’re not a frequent flyer. But with a little bit of insider knowledge, you can avoid common rookie mistakes and get your travels off to a flying start.

Take on board the advice below, and then visit KAYAK to start your flight search to London.

Know your terminal

Know your terminal in advance - it’ll save you LOTS of time. Photo: @martinarepole/Instagram
Know your terminal in advance – it’ll save you LOTS of time. Photo: @martinarepole/Instagram

Avoid any last-minute hassle by checking which terminal you’re flying from before you make your journey to Heathrow. There are four terminals in total, numbered from 2 to 5. If you do find yourself in the wrong place, or need to change terminals to catch a connecting flight, don’t panic – it’s easy enough to travel between them all. You can walk between terminals 2 and 3, and catch a free shuttle bus or train to and between terminals 4 and 5. Just follow the signs.

Get to the airport with time to spare

Heathrow isn’t the kind of airport you can rock up to an hour before your flight – even if you’re only travelling with hand luggage and have your boarding pass in hand. For starters, you’re going to want to allow plenty of time for traffic or public transport delays. Secondly, Heathrow is a big, busy place, which means it can take a while to get through security and to your gate. The official guidelines recommend getting to the airport two hours before departure for a UK or EU flight, and three hours before departure for anywhere else.

If you’re flying from terminal 5, bear in mind it’s split into three buildings: 5A, 5B and 5C. Once you’ve gone through security, you’ll find yourself in 5A. If your flight is departing from 5B or 5C, you’ll need to take the transit train, so allow yourself 20 minutes or so for this.

Avoid the Heathrow Express

Save your money for your trip and take the tube between London and Heathrow. Photo: Sascsibuk/EyeEm
Save your money for your trip and take the tube between London and Heathrow. Photo: Sascsibuk/EyeEm

The Heathrow Express touts itself as ‘the fastest way to travel between Heathrow and Central London’. This shuttle train will get you to and from Paddington Station within 15 minutes, but it comes at a cost – buy your ticket on the day, and you’ll pay upwards of £25 for a single fare. Hop on the tube instead, and you’ll pay about a quarter of this. What’s more, depending on which part of London you’re travelling to or from, the tube could even end up being the quicker option.

And if you’re thinking about grabbing a taxi instead, stop right there. Not only is it the most expensive way of getting in and out of the city centre, but London traffic means the journey can take well over an hour.

Download the Heathrow Airport Guide app

This free app will help your Heathrow experience go as smoothly as possible. Check the status of your flight with live flight updates, plan your onward journey with the connections tool, and view maps of the terminals if you need help finding your way around. You’ll also get access to any special offers from the airport’s shops and restaurants.

Follow @HeathrowAirport on Twitter

Follow Heathrow on Twitter and download the app - and make your arrival at the airport a little less stressful. Photo: Heathrow Airports Limited
Follow Heathrow on Twitter and download the app – and make your arrival at the airport a little less stressful. Photo: Heathrow Airports Limited

Whether you’ve got an enquiry about your flight or you’re just looking for the best place to eat, the team manning Heathrow’s Twitter account are on hand between 6.30am and 11pm every day to answer any burning questions.

Retreat to an airport lounge

Escape the hustle and bustle of the terminal by setting up camp in one of Heathrow’s lounges for a few hours. Unless you’ve got free access to one of the airline lounges (you usually have to be a member of a loyalty programme or hold a business class ticket for this), your best bet is the No 1 Lounge in terminal 3 or the Aspire Lounge in terminal 5. You can buy passes in advance online or just walk in on the day. Take advantage of the free food, drink, wi-fi and newspapers, and enjoy the great runway views.

Take a nap

A futuristic room beats an overnight stay in the airport every time. Photo: YotelAir
A futuristic room beats an overnight stay in the airport every time. Photo: YotelAir

If you’ve got a lengthy stopover in Heathrow, sidestep the public seating areas in favour of something a bit more comfortable. The YOTELAIR hotel in terminal 4 boasts futuristic, pod-like cabins complete with memory foam mattresses, en-suite bathrooms and free wi-fi. You can book by the hour, so it’s great if you’re after a powernap or just fancy a bit of space to freshen up.

Shop in advance

Heathrow is a shopper’s paradise. Terminal 5, in particular, is home to big-name designer stores like Chanel, Gucci and Louis Vuitton – to name just a few. Take advantage of the huge array of choice (not to mention the duty-free prices) by browsing online before you fly, and reserving items to collect in-store at the airport with Heathrow’s Reserve & Collect service.

Keep an eye out for the 15-minute menu symbol

Airport meals aren’t always cheap - so make sure you’re not having to ditch it to dash for your flight. Photo: Heathrow Airports Limited
Airport meals aren’t always cheap – so make sure you’re not having to ditch it to dash for your flight. Photo: Heathrow Airports Limited

Time is of the essence at an airport. If you don’t have long before you need to board your flight, pick a restaurant that offers a 15-minute menu and you’ll be tucking into your meal within 15 minutes of placing your order. The menu is available at 20 different restaurants, so whether you fancy pizza or sushi, you’ll find one that fits the bill. Save even more time by browsing the list and picking your restaurant before you head to the airport.

Don’t pay for kids’ food

If you’re travelling with little ones during school holidays, save a few pounds by choosing a restaurant that offers free kids’ meals. You get one free kids’ meal with each adult’s main course you buy at selected restaurants including Carluccio’s in terminal 4 and Gordon Ramsay Plane food in terminal 5. Check the dates and see the full list of restaurants.

Now you’re ready to navigate Heathrow like a pro, head over to KAYAK to search for flights to London. And check out the KAYAK MGZN for hints and tips for your time in one of the world’s greatest cities.

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