An Introduction to Heathrow Airport
Jet-set travel is soaring ever closer to the fabric of our lives. Heathrow Airport, one of the busiest in the world, is a symbol of how convenient sky-bound trips have become in the last 50 years.
In 2016 alone, it welcomed an average of 206,800 people through its doors and tarmac lanes every single day. Record numbers were recorded on the 31st July of that year, when visitors hit a peak of almost 260,000. As you might expect, all those bodies in one place can make for a hectic, slapdash passenger experience as you race to hit your flight on-time. And the stats imply it's only going to get more prone to queues and congestion…
So, this summer, you'd do well to have a few tips for navigating your own journey to the departure gate. Here are ten suggestions for less stress, worry and impatience when you're heading through Heathrow.
Arrive well in advance!
We've all been there – the typical last-minute pack as we stuff a suitcase to breaking point, re-stocking clothes, toiletries, and charging cables for the trip. Then, when you're all set to go, the roads are clogged with traffic shunting at the pace of a snail. It's not uncommon for families, couples and single travellers to reach the airport with only an hour to spare before take-off. And that's only the business of getting there; we have to take check-in, security and weaving through the departure lounge into account…
Are 60 minutes enough to do all of this comfortably? Hardly, if you ask us. Like anything else we attempt, it's sensible to overestimate the time you'll spend on the whole process, from getting to Heathrow all the way to the minutiae of travel approval. Pack the night before, ticking off everything you need, and look at typical journey times for the route you'll be using.
We suggest a two-hour window, at the very least, for flights within the UK. You'll want to extend that to two-and-a-half or three hours for international flights, as the queues will be longer.
Prepare for Heathrow Security Inspections
Safety and due diligence is (quite rightly) a trait that airlines have to maintain. While we're familiar with taking off our shoes and belts in the security line, there may be other requests you're unaware of. These may be in flux, which means you have to be aware of any rule changes before you arrive, just in case they slow you down.
At the time of writing, some Heathrow 'no-nos' include a 100ml restriction on any liquids bought off-premise, electronic devices that can't be switched on, nail scissors, and glass items that are particularly sharp. Many of them aren't simple either: exceptions can be made for baby food, medicine or a number of items that circumvent blanket regulations.
Thankfully, you can look over the airport's security protocols on their website, and prepare in accordance. Also, it's worth remembering that airlines all have their own, ideal baggage weights – check with your travel provider to ensure you're under the yardstick.
Take advantage of Online Check-In
By heading online, you can eliminate toe-tapping at the check-in desk altogether! Many companies offer this service before you fly, although there's a big difference in the deadlines they give you. Some are generous enough to leave it an hour or two before you depart, whereas others ask for one or two days' notice. In either case, you can print the boarding pass at home, and shoot straight to the security point.
There'll be a bag-drop kiosk – which of course you must research in advance of getting to the airport – for any non-hand luggage. The digital system will ask you to select seats, provide passport data and enter booking references… Once that's done, you'll save yourself a lengthy waiting spell.
Download the latest Heathrow Airport Application
Apps are great, aren't they? They inform, advise and compartmentalise our desires, sitting in our pocket wherever we go. It's logical, then, to discover there's an app for real-time flight tracking, courtesy of Heathrow Airport Ltd. It's called the Heathrow Airport Guide, and it's a bag of technical tricks that you genuinely shouldn't miss out on.
It'll notify you of delays or changed arrival directives. Travel connections can be planned in advance, so the first point on our list is dealt with magnanimously, at no real effort on your part. Yet the best and most useful feature relates to your movement around the building, which can be overwhelming to those who aren't familiar with the Heathrow bustle…
The Heathrow Airport Guide throws up a map of exits, terminals, gates and shopping outlets, directing you to the spot you're searching for It's an invaluable resource, conserving precious minutes that'd be spent on trying to get your bearings.
Weigh your own Luggage at Home
If your hold or hand luggage is over the allowable weight limits set by your airline, then you can expect to encounter issues when you try to check in. There's nothing worse than the thought of sitting in an airport, scrabbling through your possessions and trying to work out which items you can leave behind and lose forever.
Thankfully it's incredibly simple to weigh your luggage at home, and there are a number of affordable gadgets designed specifically for this task. Make sure you check the weight of your bags in kilograms, as this is the unit of measurement that airlines typically go by.
If you've got bathroom scales, they might do the trick, but for frequent fliers, it makes sense to invest in a compact, digital luggage weighing device. You could even pop this in your bag and take it with you so that you don't overload on souvenirs before the return flight.
Take a Photo of where you Parked
Forgetting where you parked your car when you've been away for a week or two is almost inevitable. You can't rely on your memory when you're exhausted after a long trip.
So long as you've got a modern smartphone, you can easily snap a photo of your car when you first arrive at the parking facility. Make sure that you get a few pics, preferably with relevant landmarks and signage in the shot so that they can be used as a reference when you come to collect your vehicle.
Of course, if you take advantage of Park IT's cutting-edge services, you'll have a much easier time of locating your vehicle when it's time to head home from Heathrow. You won't need to take extra precautions and can travel with complete confidence.
Pre-book Airport Parking
This should be a no-brainer, but if you leave the arrangement of airport parking to the last minute then you could be creating a major obstacle for yourself when you arrive at Heathrow. This is such a busy airport that spaces fill up months in advance and you could end up miles away from the terminal, if you're able to find any parking at all.
By pre-booking your parking you can rest easy in the knowledge that everything is planned and prepared ahead of time. Park IT makes it straightforward to drop off your vehicle and keys, get to the terminal and then collect everything again when you return.
The booking process is simple to understand and you can be certain that your car is in good hands. The fact that Heathrow has embraced our system throughout its various car parks is a testament to the benefits it brings to the table, both for customers and airport operators.
Fast Track through Airport Security
If standing in line with other people waiting to pass through security at Heathrow is your worst nightmare, the good news is that the airport now offers a Fast Track service to speed you through in a jiffy. You can make a booking up to 2 days before you fly, pick a specific time slot to be processed and breeze into the departures lounge, calm and collected.
It's not worth leaving the booking of Fast Track security to the last minute, because there are only a fixed number of slots available and once they're full, you'll be out of luck. Also, your airline may have included this feature as part of its ticketing package, so check carefully to see whether or not you have automatic eligibility.
In spite of the name, Fast Track security doesn't remove any of the important measures that are involved in the standard experience. This means you'll still need to get ready by removing your shoes, belt, gadgets and metallic items before being processed, as we covered earlier.
Don't Queue Unnecessarily to Board
Whenever the gate finally opens and boarding begins, most passengers will leap up from their seats, rush to the desk and form a queue. If you've not booked priority boarding, the best option is to be patient and avoid this manic panic altogether.
Most airlines assign specific seats to passengers, so rushing to get ahead of the pack is pointless. You'll lose nothing by staying put and chilling out in the waiting area. Meanwhile, other people will be jockeying for position, hauling heavy bags and shuffling slowly forwards for minutes on end for absolutely no reason.
As long as you've got to the gate with plenty of time to spare, you can afford to take your time and only queue when almost everyone else has boarded. This has the added benefit of meaning that you won't be stuck standing in the aisle of the plane itself while hundreds of other people attempt to put their hand luggage in the overhead lockers. This truly is the key to making a flight from Heathrow a stress-free experience.
Reassess all of the above, and explore digital parking solutions
Now, let's think back to what we've discussed so far.
It's imperative to get to Heathrow as early as you can. Leave two hours free for domestic flights, and up to three for long-haul journeys, upon stepping into the airport. Assemble your hand luggage around the latest security measures, and check-in on the web to skip the front desk. As you're doing so, launch your Heathrow Airport app to stay in-the-know about plane schedules and directions.
But that's not all – we strongly urge you to consider the latest in fast, fluid airport parking, such as the meet and greet service offered by Park IT. Our team revolutionise the knack of finding a space, securing your payment, and getting to and from the terminal. Such demands can slam the breaks on your carefully-honed plan; there's really no good that'll come out of a laborious parking process.
Book your airport parking through Park IT, and look forward to clear skies for your travel itinerary! Heathrow Airport is one of our main partners – they've implemented our solution across their facilities. With the backing of our five-fold guide, there's not a single, wasted second to endure, wherever you're heading off to…