Day 2 started with me getting off the plane in Terminal 3 at London’s Heathrow airport. The last time I was here was the oneworld MegaDO last year. During that visit we headed out to arrivals since London was our final destination. Still a bit groggy from the flight I headed straight there again, where the room was packed beyond belief. Even the Fast Track line which I had access to was probably close to an hour wait. It took me a few minutes to shake off the cobwebs before realizing that I likely could find a connecting option to T5. I backtracked a bit and found the hallways to the connection buses. Having never connected at LHR before I wasn’t aware of the buses but found them to be a quick and painless solution to get to T5.
For those of you not familiar with T5, it was the work of a number of years of construction starting in 2002. It was to be British Airways’ flagship terminal. It opened in 2008 to a catastrophe where over 40,000 suitcases were lost during the opening week. British Airways had to scramble for a while but appears to have settled well into their new premier home at T5.
Upon arrival at T5, the line to clear customs was significantly shorter. I was directed into the shorter of two lines by British Airways staff, but I was still looking at probably a 15-minute wait. This wasn’t much of a big deal since I had over 3 hours between flights, but I quickly noticed a Fast Track line here as well that was completely empty. I showed my boarding pass to another agent who said that because of my oneworld Emerald status (courtesy of my Executive Platinum status with American Airlines) and was quickly moved through customs and up a dedicated escalator to a dedicated security line at T5.
London airport security screening is a bit different than what we’re used to in the US. All the same basic principles, but a few things that can trip you up. For example, all iPads, Kindles, etc need to be out of your suitcase for screening. The line of people waiting for secondary screening because they left liquids or electronics in their bags was 20 people deep at my station. And, once you’re selected for secondary screening you’ve got a long wait. In the US if you’re tagged for secondary screening due to a water bottle or other such prohibited item, TSA finds the offending item and disposes of it. Sometimes they’ll run your bag through the scanner again but usually it’s a pretty quick process. At T5, they were emptying every item out of each bag and going through them one-by-one. This meant each bag took between 5 and 10 minutes of staff time. My suitcase got selected for secondary screening. And, even though I was in the shorter line I still had about a 40-minute wait for my bag. There were no offending electronics in it. In fact, the agent wasn’t entirely sure why the bag got selected for secondary screening. She decided she thought it was the battery for my Bose headphones, which is smaller than a tube of toothpaste and much smaller than a power cord I had stored in my bag. I guess that will remain a mystery, but after that I was through security with time to explore T5.
I admit to having done zero research on T5 before I got there. I quickly figured out there were two lounges I was allowed to access. One was nearby and labeled the North lounge, the other was South (both Galleries). I asked in the North lounge about showers and they directed me to the back of the lounge. The North lounge is definitely the smaller of the two lounges and only had 3 working showers and about an hour wait. I meandered around the lounge a bit and found a decent food display with hot oatmeal, sandwiches, fruit and yogurt as well as a bunch of fresh pastry. The North lounge was not a Galleries First lounge. I knew I had access to Galleries First based on a conversation right before departure with my good friend Michael, so I figured I was probably in the wrong place. The lounge was quite packed so I headed over to the South lounge to see if that one was better.
The South lounge was easily 5 times as big collectively as the North lounge. There was a separate lounge for lower tier oneworld elites on the top floor, then the Galleries First lounge and the Concorde room on the second floor. I had access to Galleries First, so I quickly checked in and asked for direction to the showers. There was only about a 20-minute wait and I received a pager to notify me when my shower was ready.
I took a quick spin through the Galleries First lounge and was duly impressed. First, it’s quite large. There are many diverse areas of the club to enjoy, including 3 separate areas for beverages, a wine bar and 2 buffets for food as well as a sizable business center and a small room dedicated as a play area for kids. As a family man, having a separate room with a door that the kids can run around in is a blessing on connecting flights. It’s one of the best features of the American Airlines Admirals Club lounges in a handful of US cities. Lastly, there was also a separate champagne room that was fairly empty early in the morning. Oddly enough, I couldn’t resist a quick glass of Tattinger while I explored the lounge.
There’s also a small restaurant in the far back that serves a limited menu a la carte. In the short 20 minutes I had before my shower I ordered eggs benedict and had a small plate of cheese, fruit and meat from the buffet. My pager buzzed just as I was finishing eating and I headed over to shower off the sleepiness and haze of the overnight flight.
The showers in the lounge are not as nice as the ones I saw last year in the British Airways Arrivals lounge at T5 but were perfectly functional for what I needed. It was a bit cramped with my suitcase and backpack, but the shower was hot with great water pressure and I soon felt almost human again and ready to tackle the day.
Departing the lounge I still had time to explore the terminal. It’s decked out to the nines with all the luxury retailers you can imagine. Prada, Bulgari, Burberry and Tiffany were all represented. There was a seafood restaurant, sushi restaurant and caviar store all close by as well. Lastly, duty free as far as the eye could see. Certainly one of the largest duty free installations I’ve seen.
There was one small vestige of the US plugged in as well. I’m happy to report that my tall Chai latte tasted just the same at the T5 Starbucks as it does at home. The line was long, but they had an employee with a headset on who was taking drink orders and calling them to a barista with headphones at the far end of the kiosk. They were able to move everyone through the line more quickly and efficiently than any other Starbucks I’ve seen.
The terminal is beautiful, busy, well laid out and packed with people. It’s British Airways as far as the eye can see.
Other than my run-in with secondary screening it was an enjoyable experience hanging out in T5 for a few hours. A couple of the folks from the NordicDO were on my continuing flight to Oslo. That flight was scheduled to depart at 11:20 local time, which was roughly 17 hours after I left DC. Stay tuned for the flight to Oslo and our incredibly short time at the Radisson Blu Plaza downtown.