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5 hour layover at Heathrow...any suggestions

5 hour layover at Heathrow...any suggestions

Dec 10th, 2000, 12:26 PM
  #1  
Leslie
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5 hour layover at Heathrow...any suggestions

I will have a 5 hour layover at London's Heathrow airport in January. I have never been to the UK, and would like to see anything I can in the short time. I heard about an express train that goes from the airport to Paddington Station in 15 minutes. Does anyone have experience with this? Any suggestions on what I have time to see and should see in London?

-Thank you
 
Dec 10th, 2000, 02:10 PM
  #2  
Gina
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Leslie, I think you'd be pushing it to try to get into London and see much of anything, even with the Heathrow Express. You'll have to go through immigration and clear customs first of all--and the walk alone from your arrival gate to the immigration area is a marathon. Lines can be long and chaotic. When I arrived at Heathrow in October, it took me well over an hour to disembark, get to the immigration area, and clear customs. (There seemed to be an inordinate proportion of people who didn't fill out their forms until they got to the front of the line... :: sigh :: )

Anyway, allow at minimum an hour for clearing customs. Allow at *minimum* an hour and a half on the other end--i.e., if your connecting flight leaves at 1 pm, you need to be *at Heathrow* by no later than 11:30. Depending on where you're connecting to and your airline's requirements, they may insist that you check in for your connecting flight two hours in advance. (My London-Athens flight in August required only an hour and a half, but they vary.)

Okay, that alone kills two and a half hours (minimum) of your five hours connecting. Now plan on a minimum of half an hour to get into London and half an hour to get back. Yes, the HE takes only 15 minutes, but there's not much to do right around Paddington so you'll want to take the Tube, a cab, or a bus to an area that has more sights--such as Westminster, Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden, etc); not to mention the fact that you may have to wait five to ten minutes for a departing train on both ends.

So, if *everything* goes well, and if your airline lets you check back in with an hour and a half to spare, you have barely two hours in London. I'm sorry, but IMO it just isn't worth it...you'd barely have time to get a glimpse of the Thames and Big Ben, grab a beer in a pub and get back on the train.

Flying back from a European trip in 1999, our Amsterdam-NY flight connected in Heathrow. We had, if I recall correctly, a four-hour layover. I had hoped against hope that we could try to get into town, as I love London and being that close to the city without going there was like being in the same room with a person you're in love with and not being allowed to speak to them. But we weren't even close. With all the clearing and connecting and various stufflikethatthere, we couldn't have even made it into London with enough time to look above ground, then turn around and go back again.

Fortunately, Heathrow has a lot to keep you busy. If you're flying BA, you'll be in terminal 4; if you're on another airline, you'll be in the terminal 1-3 area. The departure lounge areas for both have quite a lot of shopping, including some nice Harrods branches. Wander the shopping areas, stop and get something to eat (if you're not changing money to pounds, you'll have to charge it), and don't risk missing your connecting flight.

London--and the rest of the UK--will be waiting for you when you can schedule a trip that lets you truly experience them.
 
Dec 10th, 2000, 05:06 PM
  #3  
Leslie
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Gina,

Thanks so much for the reality check. I will be sure to take advantage of restaurants and shopping in the airport. London deserves its on trip, not 2 hours!

Thanks again,
Leslie
 
Dec 10th, 2000, 08:16 PM
  #4  
lola
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Gotta disagree on this. In two hours you can walk around Oxford Street, hire a cab and drive around the major city sites, visit a museum, shop for a tailor made shirt near Piccadilly, have a dandy meal, go to a pub, etc. etc. Whatever you choose, it will give you a taste until the next time--5 hours in the airport is a complete bore. I have been in this situation several times and usually read up to see what is doable. And then I do it, and don't regret. You can count on the express, and the time may work even better than 2 hours, and there is no language problem, so I'd say go to London!
 
Dec 11th, 2000, 12:57 AM
  #5  
Kavey
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I have to agree with Gina, especially living in London and knowing how unreliable the transport system can be.

An hour in London is not worth missing your flight over, and cahcnes are you'd be so stressed out worrying about that very possibility that you wouldnt enjoy what you saw anyway.

London will still be here, come and enjoy properly on your next trip to Europe.

In the meantime, do as Gina suggests and have fun shopping. Many typically British shops can be found in the terminals, though remember the prices will be slightly inflated.

Kavey
 
Dec 11th, 2000, 04:15 AM
  #6  
A Local
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Five hours is a bit tight, as others have said. Instead of going right into London, why not get a taxi from the airport to take you to Windsor, just 15 minutes drive away. From here, you'll be able to spend an hour and a half walking from Eton College up to the castle, perhaps visiting a couple of shops on the way. Should be no problem getting a return taxi to the airport in good time for your onward flight.
 
Dec 11th, 2000, 04:23 AM
  #7  
Christine
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On a recent 4 hour layover in Heathrow I took advantage of the showers located in the terminals and transfer area. For 1 GBP (or the equilvalent in US Funds) you rent a fluffy towel and get a very nice, clean private shower room with sink and hairdryer. I've found it is the perfect way to pass the time and freshen up after a long flight.
 
Dec 11th, 2000, 05:39 AM
  #8  
Nigel
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Well I would have to guess that Lola has never experienced customs and immigrations at Heathrow. I strongly agree with the others that say forget it, you just don't have enough time. I have done these layovers (4 and 5 hours) and as stated above, it will be cutting it too close to go into town. Hang out at the airport, have a bite or a pint, or better yet, both. The time will go by quickly.

As an aside, I wonder how many flights Lola has missed because she thought she could just run into the city for a while.
 
Dec 11th, 2000, 05:54 AM
  #9  
Gina
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"A local" and Christine both have excellent points. Windsor is practically right on top of Heathrow (it was very convenient for a friend who lives in Old Windsor to pick me up there) and you could enjoy the sights of the town. I wouldn't recommend actually trying to *see* the castle in the time you have; if you have much interest in British history you'll want several hours to scour it thoroughly. Still, you'll at least have seen the town of Windsor, which is lovely, and the outside of Eton College and the Castle. That should give you a nice taste of Britain for your return.

Alternatively, if delays hit you (which they definitely can at Heathrow) and even Windsor would be a stretch, those showers in the terminal are a *nice* perk after a long overnight flight (as I'm assuming you'll have). If you're coming in on BA and in Terminal 4, they're behind Gate 9, if I recall correctly. If you know someone who has leftover British change, swipe some to get a pound for a towel; I forgot to bring mine and wound up drying myself off with a pack of kleenex I had in my bag!! But the showers are nice, hot, clean, and private; it's a wonderful way to refresh yourself from jet lag. (I don't know where they are exactly in the terminals 1-3 area, but I'm pretty sure they have at least one set there as well.)

Of course, you can also find a cash machine and get yourself a 20-pound note (a little over $30 US), which will buy you a shower, lunch and a pint, and a few local newspapers and celebrity tabloids to give you a taste of Britain.
 
Dec 11th, 2000, 08:34 AM
  #10  
lola
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Nigel- I have traveled to London Heathrow dozens of times, and travel is part of my business, so I travel round the world. Once in Amsterdam I had a 5- hour layover and hired a taxi to drive me around the bulb fields and to Haarlem. Costly, but a wonderful use of time to see an April event. Once in Minneapolis on a short layover I had a taxi take me to a wonderful museum there and I enjoyed myself (and never have been back). I don't say this sort of thing is for everyone, but I'm a risk taker, hyperaware of the shortness of time and life, and preternaturally curious. And by the way, I never missed a connection on these adventures. I just wanted to let people know that you can do it--weigh the risks.
 
Dec 14th, 2000, 12:47 AM
  #11  
Karen
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One timing point to consider: Once you clear customs with your baggage, you should be able to check it back in for your next flight right away and get a boarding pass - that way, you don't need to return to the airport one and a half hours before your flight (although you'll have to make sure you're back in plenty of time to make it to the gate with time to spare!) Assuming an hour to get through immigration and customs and perhaps another half hour (depending how long the check in lines are) to recheck your luggage and get a boarding pass (which you would do right away, even if staying in the airport - because you'll need to get rid of your luggage in any event!), plus half an hour each way to London and back, plus leaving half an hour once you get back to the airport for reserve, you'll have two hours in London itself. Don't know if that makes a difference, and bear in mind that even going by Heathrow Express is not cheap. I like the Windsor idea best of all - it's a good way to see something worthwhile and at a leisurely pace. You might check with a cab driver before you set out, though, to be sure that you'll find a cab for the way back - if I recall, there is also a minicab office at the airport where you should be able to book a cab to pick you up at Windsor, for avoidance of doubt. Otherwise, I don't think you'll be sorry to spend the time wandering about the airport - there is really quite good shopping there, if you're interested, and a shower after the transatlantic flight should be worth it's weight in gold! Christine: for future reference, where exactly are the showers? I fly in and out of London pretty often and never noticed them.
 
Dec 14th, 2000, 05:53 AM
  #12  
Gina
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Karen, the showers in Terminal 4 are behind/next to Gate 9. They're definitely not easy to spot; if you're standing directly in front of Gate 9 looking at the gate doors and the agent's desk, the showers (and bathrooms) are through the doors in the short hallway to your right and a little behind you. (Don't go back out into the main terminal area.)

There are two showers, I believe. Ask the attendant if one is available (most of the time I think they are, since people don't seem to be really aware of them), pay a pound for a towel, and voila!
 

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