Sunday, July 19, 2009

Heathrow airport: Getting to Terminal 4 from the Central Bus Terminal - What a nightmare

Heathrow International Airport, London England 19 Jul., 2009. My KLM flight to Amsterdam from Heathrow's Terminal 4 was at 6:30a. I figured I was going to have difficulty making that flight so I purposely stayed at the airport and in addition, awoke at 4:00a so I could make my flight. This is when the fun began.

The night before, well a few hours before bed, I did some research about the bus times at the Transport for London web site to ensure that I could at least get a bus to the Central Bus station at Heathrow Terminals 1,2,3. I however did not research actually getting to Terminal 4. Why would I think that would be an issue in the world's busiest airport?

As I was not too clear about the morning's outcome, I was out of the hotel at 4:32a and headed for the bus stop which was quite crowded for that time of the morning. But the airport is run by people and Heathrow starts early; first flight lands between 5:45a and 6:00a and first departure is at 6:00a from Terminal 1, 6:30a from Terminal 4, my flight and 6:15a from Terminal 5. This may vary by day of week and time of year.

Within minutes the #555 showed up with Central Bus station as its destination. I asked the driver if the bus goes to Terminal 4, he said no, but pointed across the street saying I'd have to take the bus on that side. I said, thanks and that I will figure it out once I get to the Central Bus station as I knew that you can take the shuttle to Terminal 4 from the Central Bus station.

I arrived at the Central Bus station at about 4:40a and headed downstairs and followed the signs to Terminal 4 via the Heathrow Express/Connect shuttle. Once there, I along with a few other people realized the doors were closed. There was really no signs saying what time it opened. There was however a schedule saying that the first train to London Paddington was at 5:08a.

Two other passengers and I headed back upstairs to see if there was a bus. Lo and behold it was the #555 and it had departed at 4:45a; yup, it was the same bus I was on from my hotel. Now why did the driver not say something? Your guess is better than mine.

It was now 4:50a so we decided to head back to the Heathrow Express station. At 4:57a, a lady opened the doors. I asked her if there would be a shuttle to Terminal 4 right away and she said yes.

When we got down to the tracks, we noticed that the next train to Terminal 4 was in 38 minutes and I believe 29 minutes to Terminal 5. It appears that Heathrow Express which is responsible for the shuttle train between terminals is clueless of the airlines' operating schedules. Here's a clue folks - go here.

I saw some of the passengers talking to a Heathrow Express employee and garnered that she said we should take a cab. Also, that the cabs may not want to take us as the journey is a short fare.

So four of us went upstairs and headed for the cab line at Terminal 3 arrivals. This whole episode had the makings of my experience back in February this year (2009) when it snowed like crazy and London could not deal with it.

One of the ladies was going to Terminal 5 and the rest of us to Terminal 4. The three of us approached a cab and told him our destination. He was none too happy, but ushered us into his cab, closing the door behind us and telling us it would take about 20 minutes. What! At that point I knew he was going to take the longest route so he could get a better fare.

He then went over to the dispatch booth to complain I guess while we waited for him. Moments later he came over, started the cab and we were off.

After what seemed like a really long drive, I noticed the Hatton Cross bus station and wondered why the heck he was going this far out. As fate would have had it, I had taken that 555 the day before and it took all of about 8 minutes from Terminal 5 to the Central Bus station, so I know that it should not be taking us this long to basically go around the airport. So I know this cab driver cheated us.

By the time we got to Terminal 4, the meter read 22.20 GBP! I split it with the lady and her son, but she only took 10 GBP from me. As a comparison, During that freak snow storm back in February, I had taken a cab from Tower Bridge to Paddington in driving snow and that fare was 15 GBP. That distance was much farther than what we did today.

We were both able to check in for our flight although there was quite a long line.

I'm sending BAA and Heathrow Express a link to this post so they can see what customers go through in the wee hours. Here's hoping they will make some changes.

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London/Berlin Jan 31 2009: Heathrow Airport is snowed in