81 Hours In Europe: Heathrow T3 And American Airlines Flagship Lounge

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I landed at LHR shortly after 11am local time, which marked 64 hours on the road.  My flight took off at 5pm local time. 6 hours might seem like a long time in an airport but it’s pretty easy to use that time up considering the transit and clearance times as well as some time to unwind and refresh on an international flight.

I was landing at T5 where I’d been just a mere 48 hours ago (perfectly normal, right?).  And, while I would have enjoyed heading back to the Galleries First lounge in T5, the lines were especially long for both arrivals and transfers.  I had a Fast Track pass from the good folks at British Airways that would have shortened the line, but I also had one last chance at an earlier arrival home.  There was a flight leaving for Chicago in about an hour that would further connect me to an earlier arrival into DCA.  A quick check of Expert Flyer showed J1, which meant they were still selling at least 1 Business Class seat.  Could I find a way to switch to the earlier flight with slightly different routing (and even pick up a few more frequent flier miles along the way since I’d be heading to Chicago instead of JFK).  Off I went to find out.

Quickly past arrivals at T5 I headed down the escalator to a waiting bus.  Transfers at Heathrow happen mostly with buses based on the amount of distance between the terminals.  I got a bit lucky that the bus was boarding as I pulled up.  There’s generally about a 10-minute gap in between buses.  It’s also about a 10-minute drive between T5 and T3, where my American flight would be departing out of later that day.

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Off the bus at T3, it was a relatively short walk up an escalator and around a bend to the security entrance for transferring passengers.  The Fast Track line had about 10 people in front of me, which didn’t seem too bad.  Ultimately, it took an awful long time to screen 10 passengers and just shy of 20 minutes later I was in T3.  Time was actually starting to run short as the Chicago flight was boarding.  I took a short walk to the American Airlines Flagship Lounge to see if they could help rather than sprinting to a far-away gate location.  I also figured I might get lucky and find someone from American’s Premium Services that wanted to help make an exception for me.

One oddity I hadn’t encountered before were two security folks at the entrance to the Flagship Lounge.  They wanted to verify my passport and boarding pass and put a customs sticker on the back of my passport.  Not sure why, since the lounge doesn’t have landside access or direct gate access to my knowledge.  I’m sure one of my readers with more experience at Heathrow will fill in the blanks here for me.

Two agents at the front counter of the lounge tried to help me get on the earlier flight.  One was contacting the gate at Chicago while the other was banging away on the keyboard.  It became clear pretty quickly that there wouldn’t be an exception and a free pass onto the Chicago flight.  The agent was talking about the $275 change fee in conjunction with that last Business Class seat available.  I’d already paid a decent chunk of money to fly home a day early to the family and it was looking like there might be another test of whether I would be willing to pay $275 to make it home in time to tuck my kids into bed (answer, yes.  I travel way too much to miss an extra bedtime with the kiddos).  As it turned out, the agent in the club made it a very easy decision for me.  Based on what the gate agent had told him, he would need to re-price my ticket to put me on the Chicago flight since there were no coach seats left at all to put me in.  That would result in an additional fair of 5100 British Pounds, or about $8200.  Uh, no.

All possibilities exhausted, I set out to explore T3 a bit.  I’d never departed from T3 before (though arrived there a handful of times) so I had a new terminal to scout out.  Airports as a whole are more crowded with air travel continuing to increase, but T3 was literally packed to the gills.  There’s not much in common seating near the retail and restaurants.  What was there was completely overrun.  I was happy to have access to a decent lounge to make things much more pleasant.

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T3 has the typical miles of duty free as far as the eye can see.  As a side note, just because it’s duty free doesn’t mean it’s cheap.  Consider this bottle of Dom Perignon in the T3 duty free shop.

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Only  £99, which is about $160.  Except, you can buy this bottle at Costco for $129.  Food (or wine) for thought.

There’s a Starbucks, two seafood restaurant/champagne bars, a sandwich/pastry shop and an Italian restaurant as well as a British pub (Bridge Bar).  A good chunk of the upscale retail present in T5 (think Gucci and Prada) populated T3 as well.  Based on the local cuisine in Norway and Copenhagen and the pace of our schedule and meal selections, I hadn’t had a hot meal too often over the past few days.  I chose the British pub over the Italian restaurant even though it looked inviting.  Both of the seafood bars looked very inviting as well, but I was looking for a hot meal even though smoked salmon and shrimp cocktail were very appetizing.

The pub was mobbed with people but I got a seat quickly and service was prompt.  I ordered nachos and fries as well as a plate of Asian-spiced wings and a fresh-squeezed lemonade.  The nachos weren’t great but the fries were just fine.  The wings, while small in size, were pretty darn good.  Slightly sweet and moderately spicy, they hit the spot.

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Back to the club where I met one of the Premium Services folks from American Airlines who helped us out during oneworld MegaDO.  The last time I’d seen her she was loading us into a car after a dead sprint across the parking lot at T3.  She drove us to T1 in a feverish attempt to get us on a Continental flight after a cancelled American flight.  We caught up for a few minutes and then I explored the regular lounge before heading into the Flagship portion.  The regular lounge is a decent size with plenty of different areas to relax or get work done.  They had a small hot buffet in the afternoon and self-serve bar.  I was happy to have Flagship access, but compared to the chaos that was T3, the Admirals Club at T3 was an oasis.  A few quick pics of the Admirals Club:

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The Flagship menu had a slightly bigger menu and wider selection of drinks to choose from.  The pub food had taken care of my hunger but I couldn’t pass up a glass of Champagne.  I hadn’t tried the Charles Vercy they were serving but I found it to be perfectly reasonable.  It was on par with the Tattinger I had at the T5 Galleries First lounge a few days prior, which surprised me a bit.  I can’t say I’ve run into too many bottles of good wine when dealing with domestic airline clubs.  Given, this was a Flagship lounge but I had already set the bar low in my mind. It looks like the Charles Vercy can be had for about $35 a bottle.

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The Flagship lounge isn’t very large at Heathrow and I had it virtually to myself after Chicago boarded.  2 other folks shared it at various times but it was relatively quiet.  The lounge itself is comfortable if not spectacular.  When I was discussing my visit with Gary of View From the Wing recently, he asked me why I didn’t go to the British Airways lounge at T3.  I recalled walking by it on my way to the American lounge but assumed that I wouldn’t be permitted access since I qualified for access to the American lounge.  He assured me I would have been allowed in and that it was nicer than the Flagship lounge.  I’ve been a travel enthusiast for the better part of two decades and an “extreme travel nut” for the past 10 years and yet I always find there’s something new to learn.  Thanks, Gary!

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The lounge is also a pretty decent place to do some plane spotting.

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I would rank the T5 British Airways Galleries First lounge higher than the T3 American Airlines Flagship lounge in pretty much every area except for the showers.  I **really** needed a shower when I hit T5 after the redeye on Thursday.  And, while I left feeling refreshed it certainly wasn’t the greatest airport shower I’ve experienced.  I know, great problem to have!  The room was tiny, such that I ended up getting my suitcase a bit wet because there wasn’t a ton of room to keep my luggage.  I could have checked my luggage with an attendant on the far side of the lounge but didn’t feel comfortable doing so, call me old-fashioned.  The floor wasn’t what I’d call inviting and the shower drain made some very interesting noises while spitting a bit of water back while I was showering.  It didn’t **feel** luxurious but it fit the bill.

The T3 Flagship showers are beautiful.  They appear to be brand new, with large format tile walls and floors.  Easily 2 and a half times the size of the T5 Galleries shower, there was plenty of space for my luggage and a spot to hang my clothes, along with a bench to sit on while getting dressed.  The shower itself was a rain shower, my favorite!  A nice fluffly towel and large vanity rounded out a great experience.  Score one for Flagship!

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Freshly showered, I was on my way to my JFK flight feeling refreshed and ready to enjoy the new 777-300ER, awake this time.  Boarding the flight marked 70 hours in my voyage.  I’d be returning to the US comfortably, happy to see the family and a bit sad I didn’t have more time to spend exploring Oslo and Copenhagen

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5 Comments

  1. In the top/cover photo of this blog post, what’s the second plane – the one behind the Thai Air 747. Looks like a cyprus tree, which makes me think of Lebanon.

  2. Re: the passport check when you entered the Flagship Lounge — it wasn’t related to accessing the Flagship Lounge; rather, they were performing the additional pre-departure security/passport screening that everyone has to go through ex-LHR on AA (and other US carriers). If you had arrived at the gate without the sticker on the back, you would have had the additional screening at the gate. (They also do the screening at the transfer check-in desk — wherever they can get you first).

    Shame you missed the T3 BA lounge — when you compare the two lounges, given that EXPs have access to both, the Flagship Lounge is almost an embarrassment. You could have an entire restaurant-style meal cooked for you at the BA lounge, whereas the Flagship Lounge just offers meager finger food and limited seating.

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