Heathrow is the biggest airport in London. Heathrow is also the biggest and busiest airport in the United Kingdom. Each day 650 flights land at Heathrow which is incredible.
In total Heathrow has 1,300 air transport movements each day and receives 70.23 million passengers every year – making it the busiest two-runway airport in the world.
Arriving at Heathrow Airport
Heathrow Airport has four terminals – T2, T3, T4, and T5. The first time you enter in any of these terminals can be an overwhelming, and intimidating experience.
But there is no need to panic – because the process you go through when you land at Heathrow almost applies to all international arrivals in most countries.
It starts from Immigration control Baggage reclaims and Customs, always in that order. Don’t forget to fill out a “Landing Card” while on the plane, before you land at Heathrow.
At the Immigration Control desk, the border officer will go through what you have written on the card, and they’ll ask questions to verify. In other words, your answers must match with whatever you write on the Landing Card.
If you, or anyone traveling with you, require mobility assistance, let the airline know so that they meet you on the plane with a wheelchair.
When you get off the plane at Heathrow Airport, be calm and confident. Look upon the information screens and follow the sign arrivals to Immigration control.
You’ll find two lines of people ahead that lead to passport control – one for British, Europeans, and Swiss nationals, and another for all other nationalities.
Getting to the passport control desk
Make sure you join the correct line to the Immigration control desk. You should carry your passport with you or in your hand luggage. Your passport must be valid for the whole period of your stay before you travel to London.
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At the Immigration control desk, an immigration officer (Border control officer) will ask to see your passport or any relevant travel document for your visit.
To make things move quicker at the Immigration, remove your passport from your bag or pocket before you reach the passport control desk.
If you also wear glasses, caps, hats, or have a scarf around your neck, remove them so the officer can see who you are. The whole family can go to the desk together.
If you already have a Visa, check to ensure that the immigration Officer has put a date-stamp on your passport before leaving the Immigration Control desk.
You can get through the Immigration Control faster using the automated e-passport gates, but only if you’re eligible. The gates use facial recognition technology to give you clearance.
When you get to the gate, read and follow the instructions – and if it’s you, it will let you through within seconds.
To use these gates, someone must be 12 years or above, from the United Kingdom, European Union, and other European countries outside the EU block. At these gates, you must use your passport, not an identity card if you are from the European Union.
Your passport must have a unique symbol on the cover. An adult must accompany anyone below the age of 18.
Reclaiming your baggage
After going through Immigration control, it’s time to go to the baggage reclaim hall. Look up, find, and follow the ” baggage reclaims” sign to collect your luggage.
Once in the baggage collection area, look upon information screens above the moving belts. Look for the flight number and the place where you started your journey on the screens.
When you find the right belt, wait for your baggage to come around. If it’s not coming through, go to the airline customer service desk, and fill in a lost baggage form.
There are things you are not allowed to bring to the United Kingdom. So, you must check out precisely what’s allowed, at the British Embassy in your country before you start your journey. Usually, you are not allowed to bring food into the United Kingdom.
Going through customs at Heathrow
If you have reclaimed all your baggage, the next thing is to pass through Customs Control. When going to Customs, look at the floor. You’ll notice three color-coded exits at Customs.
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If you are arriving from an airport located within the European Union, use the blue door or exit. Use the green exit if you are from anywhere else and have “nothing to declare.” And use the red exit if you have things to “declare” or when you are over your duty-free allowance.
When you travel to the United Kingdom from any country outside the European, while carrying some money (in cash, check or cheque, and banker’s draft) the equivalent of €10,000 Euros or more, it must be declared at the Customs control desk.
Also, be aware that even if you go through the green lane, a Customs Officer can randomly stop you and demand to see what’s inside your baggage.
Meeting places at Heathrow
If you are meeting someone at the airport, make sure the person is in the right meeting area. Heathrow Airport has official meeting points at every terminal which are all marked with a symbol. In terminal 2 – it’s opposite the exit to international arrivals.
In terminal 3 – you can meet at the ground floor seating area in the arrival building. And in terminal 4 – it’s on arrivals ground floor next to WHSmith shop.
There are two meeting points in terminal 5 – the north meeting point is just an opposite Travelex outlet. And the south meeting point is near the coffee shop Costa.
If you get lost and you need some help, look for any information desk – they will help you.
WI-FI and SIM cards in airport terminals
There’s Wi-Fi throughout the terminals at Heathrow Airport. If you want to connect to that, click on the Wi-Fi connection and follow the on-screen instructions. If you’re going to get a local phone SIM card, some shops sell them in all airport terminals.
But you can also buy a local SIM card as soon as you get to Central London.
Luggage storage at Heathrow
There are luggage storage facilities at every Heathrow terminal. Storage prices start from £6 – 2hrs and £11 – 24hrs, and each subsequent it gets cheaper, and you can store up to 90 days.
To find them, go on the information desk, ask for excess baggage storage companies. There’s also delivery service available. They will deliver your bag wherever you stay in Central London.
Getting from Heathrow to Central London
If you’re taking public transport and want to take a train, follow the signs to the underground or the Express train to Central London. You have some options, from the cheapest to the fastest.
Heathrow Express to Paddington
The Heathrow Express is the quickest and most expensive train service from the airport to London Paddington Station in Central London.
It’s a direct service, and the journey only takes 15 minutes at a cost between £22 and £25 one-way. This train leaves Heathrow Airport to London Paddington every 15 minutes.
TFL rail service from Heathrow to Paddington
The next one is the TfL Rail train service formerly the Heathrow Connect, also goes at Paddington but some stops on the way. So, it’s not a direct service as the Heathrow Express.
The TfL Rail train leaves every 30 minutes. The whole journey can vary between 25 and 55 minutes, depending on how many stops it makes on the way to London. The TfL Rail single journey tickets cost £10.50 for an adult and the child is £5.25.
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Both the Heathrow Express and TfL Rail train stop at Paddington which is outside Central London as the last destination. If you want to be in the city, you’ll have to use the London Underground train from Paddington to Central London. And that will cost a bit more to get to where you want to be.
Underground train from Heathrow to Central London
The other option is the London Underground Piccadilly line train from Heathrow Airport to Central London. The train leaves every 3 minutes, and the journey takes about an hour.
Buying Oyster card at Heathrow
You need to buy a train ticket for your journey from Heathrow Airport to Central London. You can buy a visitor-Oyster card at the airport train station ticket vending machines. An Oyster card is a smart electronic ticket used to pay for journey fares on London public transport networks.
There is also a standard Oyster card people in London use to pay for their journey fare, which you can use as well. A Visitor Oyster costs £5 in London has some benefits, but both Oyster cards work almost the way.
To buy a standard Oyster, you must pay a £5 refundable deposit and then top it up with enough credit. It costs around £3 and £5 depending on the time, to travel from Heathrow Airport to Central London.
You can use your bank debit or credit card if it has a contactless payment option enabled. You can also use Apple Pay or Android pay mobile devices for your journey fare. But using your contactless cards may incur any transaction charges from your home bank.
Taking a Taxi
If you’re taking a Taxi, follow the Taxi sign to the Taxi park and wait for a London black cab. It’s taking longer to get to central London and costs anywhere between £50 – £80, which is expensive than the other traveling options. Another alternative is to take a coach National express coach.