10 tips for surviving Heathrow Airport

Heathrowsocket

1 – Rip up the floors for power sockets. Everyone needs power for their laptops and cellphone chargers these days, but almost no airports were built with that in mind. At least in Terminal 3, none of the few official power sockets worked, but I noticed a couple of the cleaning sockets hidden in the floor were in use. These were all taken up so I roamed the lounge finding more hidden under panels in the carpet until I found another one that was live. This is probably not approved by BAA, but since their staff follow the British policy of avoiding the public at all costs, they’re not likely to notice. Be careful that you don’t trip people up though, I found placing your luggage by the cord very helpful.

2 – Bring a small power strip. On the same topic, this one works in any airport. If you can’t find any free sockets and you have a mini adaptor that turns one socket into two, then you can ask the person using a socket to share, leaving you both happy.

3 – Fly Virgin Atlantic if you’re a US citizen or resident. Virgin has decent prices and service, and is advertised mainly to British holiday makers, so almost everyone goes to the opposite line at passport control when you’re an American. Incidentally this was the first trip since I got my green card and joined the Residents/Citizens section. The difference was amazing, with a smile, small talk and "Welcome back" from the official.

4 – Take the train if you’re in a rush.
After landing, we took the relatively new Heathrow Express, and it literally on took us 15 minutes to reach the center of London, with no stops. It’s 25 pounds and leaves you at Paddington Station. We stayed at the Royal Park Hotel which is only 200 yards away, had impressive service and clean, comfortable rooms.

5 – Take the subway if you want to save cash. On the way home I had plenty of time so I took the Piccadilly Line on London Underground to reach the airport. It takes 45 minutes to an hour, but if you go after 9:30am you can get a ticket to go anywhere in London including Heathrow for about 6 pounds. The biggest downside is fitting your luggage on. There aren’t any racks, so you’ll end up building a little fort around yourself and trying not to crush the other passengers.

6 – Wear really comfortable shoes. Getting to the various terminal entrances from the train often involves walking several hundred yards, and then your gate can be another 20 minutes from there. Make sure you’ve got shoes that will cope, and luggage that wheels easily. Luckily there are moving walkways for part of most journeys.

7 – You don’t need your boarding pass at security. This one always confuses me. Unlike US airports, they don’t ask to see your boarding pass as you walk through the metal detector. They also hoard the trays for your loose items, with somebody standing there handing them out, and signs requesting that you only use one. On the positive side, they’ve stopped asking for laptops to be removed from bags which speeds things up.

8 – Eat before you get there. I wasn’t too impressed by the range of food available, at least in the Terminal 3 departure lounge. It was mostly either sandwiches, or full sit-down meals, so if you have kids or just want something hot and greasy, pick up some food in London first. One bright spot is the EAT shop, part of a wonderful British chain that offers a lot of fresh fruit and other healthy snacks. I’d love to see them expand over here too.

9 – Keep valuables in your carry-on. I’ve had a camcorder and watch stolen from my checked baggage going through Heathrow, and the airport is notorious for its criminal gangs. I now tend to keep anything I’d be sorry to lose in my hand luggage so I can keep an eye on it. You also might consider a TSA-approved padlock instead.

10 – Think about Gatwick or Stansted. There’s a couple of other London airports which are not as heavily used as Heathrow. They’ tend to have more charter flights than scheduled services, but if you can land at one of them you’ll have shorter security lines, shorter walks and generally less congestion. They don’t have quite the same connections to the city, but you can get direct non-stop trains from both.

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