Synopsis: An airline travelers guide to the terminals at London Heathrow Airport including routes to get there.
London Heathrow Airport is the busiest airport in Europe and handles more international flights than any other airport in the world.
As if being the busiest airport in Europe wasn't intimidating enough, with the recent opening of Terminal 5 there is an ongoing shuffling of airlines between the terminals to minimize travel time of people undergoing transfers. This shuffling may seem erratic but it's best to be sure what terminal you are going to before you head to the airport, you can do so here.
Moving through such an airport may seem like an overwhelming task, so hopefully this article will help to improve the experience.
Terminal guide - Getting to the terminals by car
The easiest way to get to Heathrow Airport is from the M4 & M25 motorways.
Terminal 1, 2 & 3: If you know that you're flying out from either Terminal 1, 2 or 3 then you'll be heading towards the Central Terminal Area. If traveling along the M4 you will want to take the exit at Junction 4; if traveling along the M25 then exit at Junction 15. From here it's simply a matter of following the signs.
Terminal 4 & 5: Both these terminals have their own entrances, though they both can be accessed from the M25, by exiting at Junction 14 and from here it's simply a matter of following the signs for your respective Terminals.
Short Term Car Park: If you're only parking for a short time (e.g. a few hours) then you can find a Short Term Car Park beside each of the terminal buildings. Simply follow all the signs for the terminal buildings and as you approach you should see the short term parking signs.
Long Stay Car Park: Parking Express Heathrow is the official Heathrow Long Stay Car Park, serving Terminal 1, 2, 3 and 4. You can find this Long Stay Car Park located on the Eastern Perimeter Road.
There's also a new Long Stay Car Park specifically for Terminal 5 passengers located on the Northern Perimeter Road. The Long Stay Car Parks have a courtesy coach service connecting them to their terminals.
Terminal guide - What facilities are available
Please bear in mind that the airlines that operate at each terminal are subject to change at short notice.
This terminal serves British Airways (Barcelona, Helsinki, Lisbon, Madrid and Nice), BMI, Aer Lingus, Air New Zealand, United Airlines and a few Star Alliance carriers.
The ground floor is the Arrivals area, and after you have collected any luggage you will exit through a Duty Free shop. Immediately to your left there is a Costa Coffee shop and beyond that is the exit out to the Bus stops, taxis and the car park. To the right of this exit you will find a Bureau de Change and all the Car Rental Desks.
Beyond the car rental desks on the left, and directly in front of you are the elevators, which you can take down to the Heathrow Express Train Station. To your right as you exit is a WHSmith, an info desk and the toilets.
The first floor is the UK & Ireland Check-In & Arrivals area. As you are coming off your plane you will find flights from Ireland have separate baggage reclamation than the domestic flights. As you come out you will be facing a WHSmith and turning right you will come to the elevators.
Behind the WHSmith there is a stairs up to a Mezzanine area where you can find a number of restaurants. As you come in the main entrance you will find all the Check-In desks, with Zone A to your left and they progress all the way to your right, with Check-In for Air New Zealand at the end. Underneath the Mezzanine area and beyond the Check-In Desks is the UK & Ireland Departures area.
After you have passed through customs you will come into the Airline Lounge area which has plenty of shops for you to stock up before your flight. All the way to your right and beyond The Perfume Gallery you will find the routes to the Gates. Gate 16 is right here, and to the left of it you can get to Gates 17 - 30. To the right of this you will find Gates 35 - 56.
This terminal serves a few Airlines such as Lufthansa, Air France, and a few other national carriers, though this terminal is scheduled to close and be demolished as soon as BA is fully moved over to Terminal 5.
The Ground Floor has all the Check-In desks from 1 to 76 and also a desk for you to claim your VAT Returns. Upstairs to this you will find the Arrivals concourse (to the left) and Departures concourse (to the right) as you move up to the first floor.
If you are coming in through Arrivals, then you will pass by the Car Rental Desks and the Bureau de Change as you make your way out, so you shouldn't have any trouble finding them.
If you are passing through departures you will find a number of shops in this area with a Mezzanine level with more shops and an amusement arcade found upstairs in the middle of the concourse. To the right of these is customs and beyond with plenty of more duty free shops.
Gates 11 to 19 can be found on the right of the World Duty Free shop and Gates 2-10 are found on the left.
This terminal serves Virgin Atlantic, Air Canada, Air India, American Airlines, Scandinavian Airlines System and most Oneworld and other long-haul international flights. Terminal 3 was upgraded recently to accommodate the Super Jumbo Airbus A380 which Singapore Airlines operates out of Heathrow.
The Ground Floor is where you'll find the Check-in desks and the Arrivals area. When you come out of baggage reclamation and head towards the exit you can find the Bureau de Change along the left wall and the car rental desks are found in the middle of the concourse just before the entrance.
After checking in you can head upstairs where you will find the security area right in front of you, but before you do, if you still have time you can avail of a decent number of shops and restaurants on this level, though remember the restrictions on what you can bring through security with you.
After passing through customs you will find yourself in a large Duty Free area. Just beyond that to the left are Gates 8-10, to the right you can find Starbucks and a few other shops with bathrooms on the far wall and up the middle more shops followed by the rest of the Gates.
This terminal serves British Airways (Bangkok, Singapore and Australia), Qantas and most Skyteam flights. This terminal is also undergoing some refurbishment.
The Ground floor of this terminal is the arrivals area and after you've picked up your luggage and exit into the public area you will be confronted with a Bureau de Change and all the car rental desks so you can easily pick up your car if you have booked one. To your right as you come out is a Starbucks perfect to get your day started of you have flown on the red eye.
Up one level you will find the check-in desks Zone A through E, with the customs entrance located between Zone B and C. There isn't much else on this side of customs so you can head on through to the Duty free area. From here the Gates 1-6 are to your left; Gates 7-9 are in front of you and Gates 10-20 are to your right.
This terminal serves British Airways (all domestic, most European and long-haul) and will eventually be home to ALL British Airways flights.
The ground level is arrivals and as you exit you can turn to your right and a short distance along you will find the Car Rental Info Desk on your right.
The next level up is departures and has all the check-in desks; there is again nothing much here so you can head on through security, there are two entrances for this but it doesn't matter which one you go through as they link up on the other side.
The next level up is the Gates level and this has a huge amount of shops and eateries, so it may be easy to get lost or distracted. Best to locate your gate and time how far away from it you are at any given time.
All the terminals have plenty of ATMs, health centers (in an emergency use any internal phone and dial 222) and there are a number of WiFi Hotspots and Internet terminals dotted throughout the terminals to help ensure you are never out of contact.
Reference: Mairead Foley writes for Novacarhire.com where you can book car hire at airports, ferry ports, rail stations, cities and towns all over the world.