I love Heathrow airport. My first ever flight was from there in a British Airways special flight to see Halley’s Comet in 1986 (with Patrick Moore no less.) I’ve flown out of there too many times to remember, for business and pleasure. I like to think that I’m pretty good at being able to navigate my way around and know the best routes, as well as tricks and tips to speed up my journey through the airport.
However lately I’ve been ultimately frustrated whenever I’ve had to go through LHR. The first frustration is with how simply overloaded the airport is with regards to air traffic. It feels like every time I’ve been on a flight to LHR we get delayed taking off due to air traffic control restrictions i.e. there are just too many planes to land. The most recent example of this being on Thursday morning whilst taking a BMI flight from Dublin. We boarded on time for the 0905 departure and were then told by the captain on the plane that Heathrow had put a stop on our departure until 1010. Of course, BAA themselves are campaigning for a third runway which presumably will alleviate these problems. I’m not going to argue the rights or wrongs of that (it has been an emotive subject and recently sparked demonstrations.) especially as I have relatives who live in one of the villages which would be obliterated by the plans. However it surely makes more sense to improve capacity at LHR than some of the other plans. The last thing London needs is more people being pushed out to Stanstead which is just too far away to really be considered a London airport, or worse yet a fourth one (sorry Luton doesn’t count as far as I am concerned!) Incidentally, our flight back to Dublin on friday suffered a two hour delay due to knock-on effects of the plane being delayed earlier, probably for the same reason. I struggle to remember the last on-time flight I took into or out of LHR.
The knock on effect of increased flight traffic is increased people traffic in the terminals. Whilst I’ve not found this too bad when travelling through one terminal into or out of London, we recently had to navigate the flight connection centre when coming back from New York on our honeymoon. We arrived on American into Terminal 3 and had to transfer onto Aer Lingus out of Terminal 1. We left a healthy 2 hour connection time. The flight in was late (can you guess why? Yes, LHR air traffic control restrictions) what’s more we didn’t have a stand! I don’t believe that has ever happened to me at LHR before, let alone on a transatlantic flight. The net result being that a bus ride from a remote part of the apron subtracted more time from our connection. Another bus ride took us from T3 to the flight connections centre in T1. We still had enough time however. That was until we saw the queues to get through security. We arrived at the Aer Lingus desk to collect boarding passes 15 minutes after the flight closed and they had already given our seats away to standby passengers (this wouldn’t have been a problem had we been checked straight through on checking in at JFK, but that’s a rant for another time!) All in all it took about 1 1/2 hours to transfer from one flight to another between two terminals, on a Sunday morning. It used to be that leaving yourself two hours to connection at LHR was plenty enough, but the sheer number of people there nowadays makes it something of a lottery.
So, I’ll be trying to avoid LHR from now on. There’s more than enough choice in how I get back to the UK from Dublin every now and then. Unfortunately options for long haul travel are less flexible. Direct flights from Dublin to the US tend to be 50% or so more expensive than flying to LHR first, and whist Schipol might be an alternative (and a much, much nicer airport to boot) it adds even more time onto the transatlantic leg.