Heathrow: Worst Airport in the World

Good rant in the NY Times letter section today about London’s Heathrow Airport as the worst airport in the world. It certainly gets my vote.

To the Editor: Regarding the Journeys column “Europe’s Worst Airports: Congestion and Other Terminal Illnesses (Jan. 13): Thirty years ago everyone lamented the annoying change of planes at Hartsfield airport in Atlanta. It was said that in order to get to heaven, even God had to change planes in Atlanta. Heathrow, near London, is the new Atlanta.

Millions of travelers headed to Europe, Africa, Asia or the Middle East have to change planes at Heathrow. It is the most diabolical, dehumanizing, inconsistent and frustrating experience transferring from terminal to terminal. The insufferable lines and the need to be rescreened at security even though you have never left a secured area is unexplained. There is a solution to the madness and the extreme delays: make sure you are routed through other airports. I avoid Heathrow, even if my alternative route requires slightly more time or slightly more cost.

Burt Richmond


  1. A lot of this is because BAA doesn’t want to waste money fixing up the existing infrastructure when they’re planning to dump it all to replace it. T5 will replace T4, at which point they’ll shut T4 and renovate it. When it’s done they’ll continue the musical chairs renovating T1..T3.
    But I’ve gone to the T5 trials and I have to say I was disappointed. I filled out 2 1/2 pages of criticisms in my trial feedback. Just to give you an idea I missed *both* of my connections in the trial.
    Basically T5 is shiny and spatious and there are lots of actually context-appropriate shops (not just perfume stores). But they haven’t kicked the basic errors which make Heathrow such a pain.
    You still have to walk long distances past the shops to get to the gates. They even built a satellite terminal which you have to catch a bus or train to catch connections at. They have fascist limits on check-in times which they plan to enforce not just at check-in, but at transfer, security checks, etc. Don’t get to point X by n minutes before your flight (of course they don’t tell you the various values of n) and you get bounced.
    And the worst thing is that from all appearances (this wasn’t clear since I missed my flights) they intend to maintain the particularly anti-traveller BAA policy of only giving out gate assignments at the last minute. So you’re forced to hang out in the shops instead of a quiet gate area (well, I didn’t see any designated quiet areas but the PA system wasn’t active yet for the trial). Which is just as well because the gate area has no power receptacles, and the benches are hard plastic with armrests to block people from lying down.
    And of course the new terminal won’t fix the “gates are a million miles from the runways” problem. I wear I spend as much time taxiing to the gate as it took to descend (and circle 5 times of course because of the silly single mode policy, but that’s not BAA’s fault). I think T5 is even further from the runways.
    All in all I had a lot of hope that the reason Heathrow sucked so hard was that BAA was just waiting for T5 and the subsequent game of music chairs with their terminals. But I don’t think they’ve figured out what they’re doing wrong yet. I will still prefer to fly out of Birmingham with free power, wifi, short trips to gates, etc.

  2. Martin Haeberli says:

    -I concur with the consensus – Heathrow is up there on the worst airports scale
    -My family flew through Heathrow in June 2007 using airline miles; we had a 9 hour scheduled layover; were on our way through to Paris. (We napped at the airport Hilton, which is a story in itself). On arrival in Paris, our checked bags were missing in action. Straight-faced explanation (of course from a French airport baggage official): “your layover in Heathrow was too short”! Luckily this actually helped us – we took the train into Paris (as we only had hand baggage); this would have been infeasible had we had our checked bags, and our checked bags were delivered, free, to our hotel, within a few hours.
    -I flew through Heathrow (traveling to London from SFO, thus Heathrow a “logical” choice) a year ago; I was flying business class. On the way out of the US, I had two carry-on bags – my computer bag and a backpack. On the way back, I was told by the airline that I could carry on only one; that I would have to check the other – “airport security rules”. So I reluctantly checked one of the two. A friend recently told me that someone he knew had, with foresight, brought along a large plastic Hefty trash bag for just this occasion, and when he was told the same thing, stuffed his multiple carry ons into the Hefty bag and promptly was deemed as meeting the “one carry on ” restraint by Heathrow security.
    -on the amusing side, on one occasion in the past two years I was going through Heathrow and saw the following sign in the men’s room: “Caution, water can be scolding[sic] hot!”

  3. Frankfurt baby! 2X the crappiness of LHR + typically teutonic disdain for your dilemma.
    This post inspired me to blog about it here.

  4. Thank you for this valuable word! I will be flying to Europe twice this summer, and will avoid Heathrow if at all possible. I am surprised, based on my recent travels, not to find JFK nearer the lead of annoying airports, however. I would recommend insurance for any checked baggage that will go through that zoo!

  5. Worst in the world is a little too harsh. I’d put CDG, Logal or New Delhi higher up on the crappiness totem pole

  6. New Delhi is pretty dreadful for departure; not so bad for arrivals. The departures part of New Delhi combined with the arrivals at Heathrow would be a nightmare.

  7. Avoid Heathrow! It is the worst airport in Europe and it is also worst than American airports.
    At Heathrow, the staff is rude, the place is packed with confused travellers, the security rules are different at every check-point (there are many) and nobody cares that you have to meet a connecting flight.
    The worst part, they do nothing about changing their bad image, the truth is this airport is not busy, this airport is badly managed!