During the research for his latest book, writer and photographer Michael Clinton — he is the author of Wanderlust (www.amazon.com) — fell in love all over again with Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport in London . Here’s why.
There aren’t too many people who use love and the name of an airport together. Maybe there are a handful of airports that could fit that bill…and they are mostly newer ones…in Asia. Think Dubai, Beijing, Hong Kong. Personally, there are a lot of airports that I’m happy in, but then again, that’s me. Airports are one thing, but there are certain terminals that seem to float above all of the chaos that the modern day airport can create. Think of Jet Blue at JFK, now in the gorgeous Saarinen structure that once housed TWA. I also tend to be partial to Terminal 7 at JFK. It’s manageable at a more human scale. (It houses British, United, and Icelandair). But Terminal 5, or T5, the home of British Airways at London’s Heathrow has to stand out as one of my favorites terminals anywhere.
As some of you may know, it took nearly 15 years from conception to completion before T5 was opened. 80 archeologists were involved in what was the largest ever single site excavation in Britain’s history(discovering that there was human life on this ground 8,500 years ago). There were administrative and political setbacks, but in March 2008, T5 opened to, well, disastrous news reports. There were bag-handling issues and technological snafus. But like any opening day with problems to work out, British Airways figured all of this out quickly, and today, the terminal soars with efficiency!
Yes, airports and terminals sometimes run amuck, but it is usually Mother Nature wreaking havoc with flight departures and arrivals. Trust me, you want to be at T5 when that happens. During the course of the year, I might be in London once or twice, but I also find myself transferring at T5 for other global destinations, like Budapest, Zurich, Cape Town, during the course of any year.
Recently (last night), I decided to take the 10 pm flight to London with a two-hour layover at T5 to connect to Milan. The 10 pm British Airways flight to London is perfect because you can eat dinner at the Club World lounge, board the plane and be fast asleep in a Club World Class sleeper for a good, solid five hours of sleep on the 6 hour plus trip to Heathrow. The two hour layover for the 1:30 hour flight to Milan was a treat, and it made me think of the 10 reasons why I love T5. So, here goes:
1. The terminal is open, airy, light. The architectural design with the waveform roof that is 39 meters high is a nod to the romance of flying, perhaps a bygone era, but it is a wink to that time. From the ground to the rooftop is a gigantic window that allows you to watch every conceivable airline and aircraft take off and land to destinations all over the world. The interior of T5 is spacious and the terminal has stacked vertical floors, creating less of a walk for flyers. Think about American Airlines Terminal 8 at JFK…you’d better be in great cardio shape to get from the start to finish!
2. Open seating areas that are loungelike, where there are big departures/arrivals boards everywhere, lots of wifi areas, and big screen televisions to catch up on the news. You never have the sense that you are crammed into a waiting area, even with all of the crowds.
3. Ditto on the British Airways lounges…civilized, open , lots of different foods, reading and viewing options and comfortable seating.
4. T5 is a shopper’s paradise. Forgot a shirt? Pink is there and Ted Baker and Harrods. Need a little luxury? the Gucci, Vuitton, Tiffany shops are as well designed and merchandised as one that you would find on Rodeo Drive. But there is all kinds of shopping, including one of the most ingenious London/UK souvenir shop anywhere. One of my favorite stops at T5 is Dixon’s …that sells every conceivable travel gadget that you may want or need. Think ipads, ipods, chargers, laptop covers, and just about any type of travel accessory imaginable. I could have spent my whole downtime in that store alone!
5. Hungry? There is every type of food for any type of taste. Wagamama, the Japanese restaurant has amazing food and the best views to watch airplanes takeoff and land. Gordon Ramsey has a place called Plane Food. There are pubs and bagel shops, gourmet takeaway and of course, Starbucks.
6. The very cool circular Vodka Bar with every Vodka in the world available for your tasting.
7. There are lots of service desks….information, exchange, BA Customer Service. Even the sometimes nightmare of getting through customs to connect to another international flight, which requires another security check, seems painless. I know, I can’t believe I’m saying that!
8. That soft female voice with the lovely British accent that announces the departure of flights…”British Airways announces the departure of flight xxx to Shanghai”....I feel like I’m in a James Bond movie, listening to her announce flights to Lagos, Athens, Stockholm, Delhi. It takes you on an imaginary trip to faraway places.
9. People-watching: with the exception of the Dubai airport, there is no better crossroads of humanity! Try figuring out who is from where and where they are going. It’s a fun sport, for sure.
10) And finally, British Airways itself. Maybe I’m naive, but boarding a BA flight just seems…well, comfy. The impeccable manners of the attendants, the assuring voice of the Captain, the cabin service, the whole civilized vibe. Compare that to Continental at Newark! And I’m not even an Anglophile. Somehow, I feel safer and more pampered on BA.
If you haven’t been to T5, put it on your destination and or international connections list. And if your heading to the 2012 Olympics in London, there will be another T5 terminal being built for that traffic and for the future. Happy at an airport, a contradiction? Not at Heathrow’s T5…it makes it all pleasurable again. Have a lovely flight!