I’ve been through Heathrow a couple of times this year now, and my patience has snapped. Anyone who cares about cost, comfort, convenience, or getting there on time with their possessions, should start taking extreme measures to avoid routing through Heathrow. They’re trying hard, but they’re failing, it’s just broken. Find another way; even if it’s longer and more expensive, the chances are still that you’ll arrive sooner having spent and suffered less. Yes, it’s that bad. [The comments are boiling over, I’m not the only one who feels this way; can something be done?] [Later: Check the horrifying number reported by Hanan Cohen. I’m serious; I am totally going to find a way around Heathrow.] [Later, still: In the last week of July, Eric Pfanner of the International Herald Tribune ran across this piece and called me for an interview; the story turns out to be about transport privatization in general, and is a good one I think.]
The Facts of the Matter · Here are some things that differentiate Heathrow from good airports:
It’s insanely huge. Making any transfer, or merely getting into London, will require walking through endless dingy charmless hallways, dealing with extreme crowding, and in most cases a packed, uncomfortable bus ride. I have learned that to make a connection involving a terminal change with any reliability, you have to budget at least two (very unpleasant) hours.
They won’t gate-check strollers, so if you’ve got an infant or two, you’re going to be carrying them down all those hallways by hand.
You will go through more security checkpoints. In a (failed) attempt to transfer from one British Airways flight to another, in the same terminal, we went through three separate security checks, each with a lengthy, cramped, line-up.
One carry-on only. So if you’ve got a laptop bag and a purse, check one. Or if you’re just traveling for a couple nights and have your briefcase and a soft-sider with the basics, you’re going to be waiting for luggage when you get wherever you’re going.
If you’re hungry, there are exactly zero options which are good and affordable. If your budget is like normal people, you can join yet another lengthy packed queue to get a generic Pret a Manger. There are sit-down restaurants, most serving indifferent food at obscene prices. Then there is the champagne-and-smoked salmon bar, which is excellent, where one can eat for the cost of five.
It’s too crowded; hard to find a quiet comfy place to sit down.
On the trip from Vancouver to Berlin yesterday, we were two hours late leaving Vancouver (reason unspecified, the plane was there), fought our way through the airport to the Berlin departure gate while they were still loading only to hear “Sorry, you’ve been de-boarded, go back to Flight Connections”. Hours later, we made it to Berlin via Cologne, but our luggage didn’t; it’s still not here. [Update: The next day, it turns out that the luggage is still in London and will be here (they promise) 9PM today; this is hard to understand when it’s a two-hour-flight away.] [And again: The luggage, misplaced Tuesday morning in London, did not arrive in Berlin until Thursday afternoon. Just avoid Heathrow.]
On the other hand: the people who work there, most of them, most of the time, are really trying hard; professional, polite and reasonably efficient. It’s just that what they’re trying to do can’t be done at the scale they’re trying to do it. Do yourself a favor and find another way to get there.