You thought transiting would be easy, but somehow it feels complicated
You boarded your first flight through an airport such as JFK or Chicago or LAX and all went smoothly. You packed carefully. Even if you didn’t have TSA-pre or Clear or Fast Track, you dutifully put your liquids and laptop in the trays and sailed through security. You handled your own trays and if your liquids happened to go beyond the allotted 3-1-1, you split them into two bags on two trays and no one was any the wiser.
Following the International Connections signs
So now you’ve arrived in London Heathrow – you see the “international connections” signs and you think this will be a breeze. You start walking (and walking. and walking! and walking!). Lots of airport employees wearing purple vests stand in hallways directing you. If the connecting flight leaves from another terminal, you might even get to go on a fun 10-minute bus ride (like I did traveling from Dublin to New York, JFK ).
And then, before your eyes, you’re going thru what looks like passport control but is actually security control at the airport. The line is long and moving slowly. It somehow feels ominous. You wonder if you will have enough time to make your connecting flight to Paris or Rome – or more likely, enough time to get to spend some quality time at the airport lounge you were planning to visit before the next flight.
Information and tips
Here is some information you should know about the process:
First, they manhandle your possessions. Coming from the United States, I am always taken aback when transiting through countries where security officers actually handle the filling of the bins that go through the metal detectors. I don’t really like them touching my stuff, but I have no choice. The United Kingdom is such a place. They manhandle your bags.
Second, take your iPad (or other tablet) out of your bag. Yeah, I know you don’t have to do that in the United States, but in most countries in Europe you have to remove an iPad. (I learned that lesson the hard way in Paris – the result was that all of my bags got searched).
Third, back to the liquids. You thought you were done with the liquid issue when you passed through security before your first flight, but here you are again. They enforce the 3-1-1 rule much more stringently than at your first airport. Since they are controlling the bin, there is no splitting the liquids between two bins. And they will make you discard liquids if they can’t fit into a quart-sized ziploc bag. Don’t even try arguing.
Fourth, the dreaded left/right. You’ve now walked through the metal detector and were allowed to pass. You wait for your bags to come through. But, some go right and some go left. UH OH! If your bags go to the left side (or is it the right side?), that means your bags are about to be searched. But, it’s always lunchtime or time for a coffee break, so there’s usually a shortage of inspectors. Be prepared to wait.
Fifth, Gate changes and Murphy’s law of gates. Heathrow is a big airport. There have been times when I made it through the torturous security control issue, and went to an airport lounge close to my next gate. Except, at some point while I was drinking Chardonnay in the lounge, they changed not only the gate, but also the terminal, of my next flight (which I almost missed).
The reward at the end
If you’ve survived all of the above and still have time before your next flight, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
First, if you’re into shopping, Heathrow is a Mecca. If there’s room in your suitcase, I’d suggest the Harrods bear. Or anything with the Union Jack design on it. Or anything from Ted Baker London.
So now it’s time to leave Heathrow. As stated above, check your gate to make sure it hasn’t been changed and get to the gate early. Have a pleasant flight!