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Guide to Heathrow Airport

Arriving at Heathrow Airport

British AirwaysThis is the busiest airport and the main airport for London. Most major airlines fly into Heathrow, and it is the only airport that has a London Underground Tube stop. From here, you can get into central London through many different ways. There is the Piccadilly Line on the London Tube (one way: £3.80 Mon-Fri 6:30am-9:30am and 4pm-7pm, £2.20 all other times) for a one way trip to anywhere to central London, taking around 45 minutes to an hour. You can take the Heathrow Express (one way £16.50), a fast non-stop train service to Paddington Station that will take only 15 minutes. There is also a dot2 service (one way £21.50), which is a small shuttle bus service that will bring you directly to the doorstep of any London hotel. National Express also run a bus service (£5) to Victoria Station, taking slightly longer than an hour, but costing only £4 for a single journey.

Finally there is always the option of a black cab from the taxi stand outside the airport, which will set you back around £40-60 to central London. However, if you prebook a minicab before you fly, you can save quite a bit of money as they are usually cheaper than the official black cabs. Not all minicab companies are good and there have been cases of scams and dodgy cars, but on the whole most of the minicab firms are reputable and professional. One company that I use time and time again and who have never let me down is Simply Airports. They have an extremely easy to use online booking form, but I find that if I ring them up I can usually get them to discount the fare by a few pounds. However, be aware that although the minicab driver will be there waiting if your flight is late in arriving at Heathrow, they will only wait for about an hour after the flight lands before assuming that you are a no-show. So if you see yourself having through go through customs (e.g. bringing a controlled substance in to the UK) or having visa problems, it might be best not to prebook a minicab.

Tip: Beware of any person offering you a cab when you enter the arrivals hall. These are most likely unlicensed minicab drivers who might rip you off or use a dodgy car or drive without insurance. Always use the official London black cabs or a trusted minicab company. On some weekends the Piccadilly line and various other tube lines are shut for upgrade work. In this case London Underground tickets and oyster cards are valid on the Heathrow Express to Paddington Station. If you are arriving on a weekday morning or evening, avoid taking a cab or a dot2 service as your journey (and possibly cost) will be twice as long/much due to traffic congestion during those peak hours.

Car Rentals

Ford Fiesta Car RentalFor the majority of tourists, driving in central London is not cost-effective and creates more hassle. However, if you are planning to visit other areas around London, especially if you have a big family and want to visit some remote locations, driving is the way to go. Despite the highly frequent and massive rail network and a decent bus network in most big places, public transport outside London tend to expensive and if there are more than 2 of you it is worth renting a car when you arrive. Most of the major car rental companies have representative counters and offices at Heathrow Airport, although be warned that they are not open 24 hours; some counters close as early as 6pm! However, if you have pre-booked, you can pick up your car at any time as the companies have someone at the car parks at all times to hand over the keys, but they rarely deal with new bookings. Therefore, The London Insider advises all travelers planning to rent a car to book online before arrival. This also ensures you get the best price, as you can shop around the different rentals as well as get advanced booking discounts. Companies that are big in the UK and have counters at the airports are: Hertz, Avis, Enterprise, etc. In addition, you can use CarRentals.co.uk, a rental comparison site, to compare all the top companies with just one search.

Wi-fi and internet access

Heathrow Airport WifiAlthough there is almost universal Wi-Fi coverage at Heathrow Airport, frequent travellers will be sorely disappointed as there are no free wifi network hotspots, only paid ones which still charge exorbitant prices to connect. While the likes of Singapore Changi airport and the Hong Kong airport offer wifi free of charge, London Heathrow Airport still insists on charging for the privilege.

In the airport, there are a couple of big networks, mainly BT Openzone, The Cloud, and T-Mobile wifi hotspots. All three of these networks have partner agreements with many telecom and wifi providers around the world, meaning that business travellers with an existing all-you-can-use internet plan should be able to “roam” for free or for a small charge. Most airline lounges also offer free wifi or cable LAN internet connections for free as standard.

However, those that just want to pay for a single session while waiting for their flight will have to work upwards of a few pounds for less than an hour. They did make payment very simple though; as long as you have a credit card with you, you can purchase your access immediately on the spot through your laptop or iPhone. Starbucks cafe at the airport might be offering free wifi (see this article), but most likely not.

In terms of laptop facilities, most of the terminals are rather friendly, with seating areas with in-built electricity points for you to plug in your laptop charger. However, you will still need a converter to the British 3-pin plug type.  In addition, for those without a laptop, there are now internet-enabled public computers where you can pay for internet use by the hour. These terminals are normally very secure, with almost no risk of spyware or malware, so checking emails and Facebook profiles should not be a problem, but online shopping and checking your bank account should be a no-no.

The only location at the moment in the whole of Heathrow Airport that has free BT Openzone wi-fi access is the hotspot at the Skyteam lounge in Terminal 4, but to get into that lounge you will need to be flying Business Class or First Class with one of the Skyteam alliance airlines.

Overall, Heathrow is not a very connected airport and tech-friendly, so make sure you bring a few magazines or books with you!

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  • http://www.seriouslyspain.com/ Seriously Spain

    Heathrow is SO backward – it’s like being in a third world country when you’re there, except…..all the third world countries I travel through now HAVE free Wi-Fi at the airport. I HATE coming back though the UK when I travel backwards and forwards from Spain to Asia – a truly horrible country where the basics we take for granted elsewhere don’t exist. And yes, I am British!