London’s Heathrow airport serves millions of travellers each year — both those traveling to and from London, and those who are just passing through on their way to another final destination. The airport has five separate terminals, four of which are in operation as of 2012. Terminal 2 was closed for renovation in 2009 with plans for a reopening in 2014. The other four terminals are in operation, however, so it is important to check from which terminal your flight is departing before arriving at Heathrow. The airport is large, and if you get dropped off at the Heathrow departures terminal, getting to the right one will take some time and may put you well behind schedule. All terminals have a roadway by which you can dropped off for a departing flight, but cars must be moved swiftly or they will be towed. Short term parking is also available near all Heathrow airport departures terminals.
Checking in at Heathrow Departures
The exact location of check-in desks for Heathrow departures varies depending on the terminal from which your plane is leaving. In terminal 1 and terminal 3, check-in is located on the ground floor. Heathrow airport departures from terminal 4 use check-in desks and kiosks on the first floor, and in terminal 5 check-in is located on the building’s top floor. All check-in areas are marked with large yellow cubes that reflect the check-in zone number. Look at the Heathrow departures monitor in your terminal to figure out which zone you should go to. You can always check-in at an airline desk, and some airlines also allow you to complete a self-service check-in. When this is possible, you’ll see a labelled kiosk in the check-in desk area — you may also be allowed to check in for a flight online, depending on your airline.
Arriving at Heathrow Departures
Heathrow airport departures that are considered long haul — say, from London to San Francisco or Beijing — require you to get to your terminal at least three hours before the flight is scheduled to leave. If you are leaving from London and headed to another European nation, you only need to get to your departure terminal two hours before your flight leaves. Heathrow departures that are considered domestic (within England or to Scotland) only require you to arrive 90 minutes before the flight time.
All Heathrow airport departures, whether international or domestic, require passengers to go through a security screening prior to arriving at Heathrow departures concourses and gate areas. As you would expect at any major airport, your carry-on baggage will be screened and your identification verified. Once you get through security, you are free to shop and eat until your boarding begins. Heathrow airport departures generally begin the boarding process about 45 minutes prior to the time of take-off.
Each of the Heathrow departures terminals offer a lot of shopping options for departing passengers. Many designer retailers, like Gucci and Burberry, have shops at Heathrow. You can also make purchases in the World Duty Free shop. Duty free purchases are not subject to any local tax, and you don’t have to claim them on a customs form in the country to which you are traveling. World Duty Free sells items like British candy and snacks, perfume, sunglasses, and souvenirs like coffee mugs and novelty t-shirts. When you’re shopping, keep in mind that your purchases will have to be carried on the plane. Don’t buy more than you can fit into your carry-on bags, or you may be forced to find a way to check something at the last minute.
In addition to shopping, you can also get a bite to eat or a drink while waiting for Heathrow airport departures. Dining options are also located after the security check points, and include Italian cuisine, coffee shops, and seafood restaurants.