London Heathrow Airport is the busiest airport in the UK, and the fourth-busiest in the world, in terms of passenger traffic. However, Heathrow has the distinction of handling more international passengers than any other airport in the world – a testament to its importance as a transit-point for intercontinental travel.
Flights to Heathrow Airport are provided by an incredible 90 airlines, serving 180 destinations worldwide. Heathrow is home-base for British Airways, which operate direct and indirect flights to basically every major city you can think of, from Heathrow's beautiful, new Terminal 5 building.
London certainly has an appropriate gateway in Heathrow Airport: a highly modern, convenient hub that is truly geared toward providing the best possible experience to travellers. There are plenty of easy, hassle-free transport options available to travellers looking to get downtown. The flocks of tourists, who are no doubt going to descend on London for the 2012 Olympic Games, can look forward to a warm welcome and efficient service.
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Terminals 1 and 3 are within easy walking distance of each other, and are connected by a pedestrian underpass equipped with moving walkways. To reach Terminal 4 from Terminals 1 or 3, use the free, convenient Heathrow Connect rail shuttle. To reach Terminal 5 from Terminals 1 or 3, use the Heathrow Express rail shuttle. To transfer between Terminals 4 and 5, you can use the free bus services 482 or 490.
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Train: The easiest, quickest method of accessing central London from Heathrow is the Heathrow Express rail service (£18). Trains leave Heathrow Central between 5:07am and 11:42pm every day, and take only 15 minutes to reach Paddington Station. Slightly slower, but just as easy and cheaper, is the Heathrow Connect rail service, which has trains leaving every half an hour from Heathrow Central, stopping at local railway stations in west London on the way into the city. Heathrow Connect tickets are £8.50 (for Paddington Station), and the journey time is about 25 minutes.
Buses: An extensive local bus network connects Heathrow Airport to many west London destinations. Heathrow's central bus station is located between Terminals 1 and 3, and is open 24 hours a day, with a travel centre that stays open from 6am to 10:30pm. You'll be able to get route and timetable information from the travel centre. A one-way fare into central London will cost £2.20, and the trip will take about an hour.
Metro: The London Underground also provides access to central London from Heathrow Airport, via its (dark blue) Piccadilly Line. There are three Underground stations at Heathrow: one for Terminals 1-3, and then one each for Terminals 4 and 5. All of the Heathrow stations are designated “Zone 6” destinations, and the fare you pay will depend on which zone you intend on travelling to (most likely Zone 1, if you want to get to the heart of the city). Using the Underground is a cheap (maximum £5), reliable option – especially if you've used it before, and know how its routes work. Make sure you buy an Oyster card at the airport for the cheapest fares.
Taxi: London's iconic black taxis are readily available at the ranks outside all the terminal buildings. The trip into central London will take between 30 minutes and an hour, and cost a hefty £50-55.
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There are four parking options available at Heathrow Airport: Short Stay, Long Stay, Business and Valet. Note that the terminal building's forecourts are for dropping off passengers only – if you're there to pick someone up, you must use one of the Short Stay car parks. Short Stay car parks are located near all the terminal buildings, and are recommended for stays of up to five hours. Fees are £2.70 for up to 30 minutes, £4.50 for up to an hour, £6.60 for up to 90 minutes, £8.40 for up to two hours, £11.60 for up to three hours, £15.10 for up to four hours, £18.60 for up to five hours, and £49.30 for the day. The Long Stay parking areas are connected to the terminal buildings by a free shuttle-bus service, running every ten minutes to Terminals 1 and 3 (with a journey time of seven to 15 minutes); every 12 minutes to Terminal 4 (taking three to seven minutes); and every ten minutes to Terminal 5 (taking about five minutes). Long Stay parking is charged at £17 per day for the first four days, but reverts to £16.40 per day if you stay longer than that. For Business and Valet parking information and tariffs, please consult the airport's website.
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There are five efficient and helpful information desks at Heathrow Airport: in the arrivals area in Terminal 1 (near the car hire desks), in the check-in area in Terminal 3, in the arrivals area in Terminal 3 (near the meeting-point), in the arrivals area in Terminal 4 (near the taxi desk), and in the arrivals concourse in the north section of Terminal 5.
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Money and communications: There are currency exchange facilities and ATMs accepting international credit cards located before and after the security check-points in all terminals. Note that you can pre-order your foreign currency from Heathrow Airport's official website (at no commission) – and then just pick it up from the first Travelex you find when you arrive at the airport. Heathrow also has a post office, located on the first floor of the departures area in Terminal 3.
Luggage: Baggage trolleys are available at no cost; arriving passengers will find a fleet of them waiting in the baggage reclaim area. There is a lost-property office, open every day from 8am to 7pm, and located in Terminal 3 (near the Heathrow Express ticket counter) – and additionally, a fancy new online lost-luggage database system (see website for details). There are also numerous left-luggage facilities, where you can store your goods for a maximum of 90 days. You can find the left-luggage offices on the ground floor of the arrivals areas in Terminals 1, 3, 4 and 5. Note that these offices are generally open from about 5:30am to 11pm every day, and the cost for storing baggage is £8.50 per item per day. There are also porter services starting from £8.
Conference and business: Heathrow Airport has three business lounges that passengers travelling on any airline may use (for a fee). All offer a serene environment, complimentary snacks and refreshments, free international magazines and newspapers, Internet access and phone and fax facilities. There are two Servisair Executive Lounges (£17.50), in Terminals 1 and 3, and a No.1 Traveller Lounge in Terminal 3 (£25). It's recommended that you book your space in these lounges prior to arriving at Heathrow through the airport's official site. If you're seeking meeting or conference facilities, these are offered by many of the airport's on-site hotels.
Other facilities: Shoeshine services, mobile phone and laptop charging stations, shower facilities (Terminal 4), prayer rooms and an interdenominational chapel, observation galleries, smoking areas (before security control only), emergency medical facilities, a health centre, pharmacies, a spa (Terminal 5), Internet kiosks, travel agents and tour companies, and access and amenities for disabled passengers.
Wi-Fi: Wi-Fi is available in all the terminals of Heathrow Airport, provided by Boingo. To access this service, simply open your Internet browser. You will be directed to Boingo's homepage, where you can either log in (if you already have an account), or choose a pay-as-you-go plan (which you can pay for using a credit card). Rates are £3.95 per hour, or £9.95 per day.
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