There is lots of London Heathrow History! London’s Heathrow Airport, the United Kingdom’s busiest airport and the world’s third busiest, has gone by many names during its path from tenant farms and orchards to bustling international crossroads serving more than 90 airlines and 180 destinations.
It began as a hamlet called Heath Row surrounded by market farms. Variations of the name date to the 1400s.
During World War I it developed as Hounslow Heath Aerodrome, an airfield for the Royal Flying Corps.
It closed briefly and was used again for agriculture; aircraft builder Richard Fairey reopened it in 1930 as an airfield known as Great West Aerodrome and then as Heathrow Aerodrome. It also was called Harmondsworth Aerodrome.
During World War II, it was used for test flying, but controversy grounded further use until after the war, when work began in earnest on the idea of a commercial airport at the site.
London Heathrow History – A Passenger Airport
On March 26, 1946, it officially opened as a civilian airport, renamed London Airport several months later.
New runways were built, shaping it into its characteristic Star of David pattern, and passenger traffic reached 1 million by the end of 1953. (The airport had more than 69 million passengers in 2011.)
An early idea was to call the airport Swintonfield, after the nation’s first secretary of state for air. It, however, remained London Airport until being renamed Heathrow Airport-London in 1966.
From tents to terminals:
The airport’s terminals have their own history. The first “terminal” was a collection of Army tents, described on an airport website as nonetheless comfortably furnished with floral upholstered armchairs and vases of fresh flowers. This was replaced by a prefab building.
The Bricklayers Arms pub nearby was renamed the Air Hostess; this was demolished in the 1980s. Today travelers can choose from an array of coffee shops, bars and sit-down restaurants at each of the terminals; shopping includes gifts, clothing, luggage and duty-free goods, with names from Boots to World of Whiskies.
Terminals 4 and 5 have on-site hotels, a Sofitel and a Hilton, with many others within a mile or two.
Terminals at London Heathrow History
In 1955, Queen Elizabeth opened the first permanent terminal, the Europa Building, now Terminal 2. Domestic flights were handled by a Britannic Building.
Terminal 2 was followed by the Oceanic Building, Terminal 3, opened Nov. 13, 1961; the building that now is Terminal 1 opened in 1968.
Terminal 4, on the airport’s south side, was inaugurated in April 1986 by Prince Charles and Princess Diana.
Terminal 5, begun in 2001, was opened by Queen Elizabeth on March 27, 2008. The new terminal is expected to allow for 80 million passengers, with expansions to meet the needs of more than 90 million by 2030.
Terminals 1 and 2 are to be torn down by 2012 and replaced with one building, Heathrow East, by 2012.
In 1987 the British Airports Authority, which had managed the airport since the 1960s, was privatized. A new air traffic control tower, the tallest in the United Kingdom, opened in 2007.
In 1957, the first nonstop flight to California set a new record for distance and time.
The Concorde’s first passenger flight was in 1976. The flight of the Concorde from Heathrow on Feb. 7, 1996, set a new record for speed, getting to New York in two hours, 52 minutes and 59 seconds.
Heathrow anticipates its next historic date as Aug. 13, 2012, when it expects its busiest day yet as 10,110 athletes are expected to leave the city after Olympic Games. A Games Terminal is being built for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, which are in late July through early September.