The day before my flight departed the UK in December a month and a half ago, I was booked into the Holiday Inn Express at Heathrow’s Terminal 4. My flight departed early the next morning out of Terminal 3 and I thought it would be an easy trip. But I was wrong. Here is what I learned…
Always Book Your Hotel In Advance Or At Least Have a Reservation
When I arrived at my hotel, I was shocked to find that the lines to check into the front desk were about fifty people deep. Every available seat in the lobby was also taken. As I moved to get in line, I was luckily greeted by a member of the hotel staff who asked if I had a reservation. I said yes and had the email confirmation ready to go.
To my astonishment, they pulled me to the front of the line. As it turned out, every single people ahead of me was at the hotel as the result of a cancelled flight. The weather caused so many delays that the entire hotel was fully booked! The airlines were sending people there with ‘confirmed’ reservations, but unless the passenger had a confirmed email or number, the front desk turned them away.
If you intend to stay at a hotel near or at the airport, always ensure you confirm your reservation and book in advance. Don’t assume you can just show up in case something like this happens to you.
Always Have A Snack With You
My hotel did not have any room or food services available when I arrived. The hotel had…believe it or not…run out of food due to the high number of people on cancelled flights eating the terminal hotels.
Heathrow did not have any restaurants available until after security.
The front desk informed me my only option was to order take away or to take a cab or train a few stops away to pick up food. I ordered take away, but next time I will always ensure I have snacks with me.
Not All Terminals Are Connected
When leaving central London, I took the Elizabeth Line to Heathrow. It stops at terminals 2,3,4, and 5. I assumed that all the terminals would be connected by a walkway, but I was wrong.
When I checked in, I was informed that the only way to reach the other Heathrow terminals was to take the Elizabeth Line, Heathrow Express, taxi, or book the bus pick up service. I forget what they called it.
My flight left at 7:30 am so I had to be through security no later than 5:30 am …unfortunately because the next morning was a Sunday… none of the trains began Sunday service until 5 am.
I took a big risk in the morning by waiting to catch the first Underground train to the next terminal. If I had been taking an international long-haul flight I would’ve had to book a taxi. Be aware!
Ticketing Kiosks Are Not Open More Than a Few Hours Before Departure
In the US, a person can easily check in for their flight 24 hours before departure on the app or online for an airline. When they arrive at the airport, they can drop their bags 4-5 hours before departure.
At Heathrow, I was shocked that Aer Lingus only opened to passengers and accepted bags up to 2 hours before departure. They stopped taking bags 45 before the flight. Make sure that you give yourself plenty of time to wait just in case there is a long line. This practice seems to be common among European carriers.
I’ll do a separate post on the hotel as there is still a bit I’d like others to know so they don’t make the same mistakes as me, but the bottom line
- Make reservations in advance
- Be aware not all terminals at Heathrow are connected
- Be aware that areas at Heathrow are spread out and take a long time to walk to
- Trains do not operate 24 hours a day
- There are no food options at Heathrow until after security. Have food and snacks with you.
- Ticketing kiosks have specific times they open.
- Avoid checking a bag if you can.