Topic Author
Posts: 133
Joined: Mon Aug 14, 2006 10:14 pm

The Heathrow Security Experience

Mon Aug 14, 2006 11:18 pm

Hello, this is my first posting here, so please be gentle. Hopefully this doesn't count as a trip report.

I flew LHR->ORD on Saturday and thought I would give an update on the Heathrow experience. I was first class on AA.

I got to the aiport about three hours before my scheduled departure. I knew right away things were bad when there was a huge line just to get into the lift to go from the Heathrow Express up to Terminal 3 departures. Only one of the three lifts was in operation, probably deliberately to throttle the flow of people up into the terminal. Also, many luggage carts had been moved down there, causing extreme congestion.

Checking zone A was the only place directly accessible from the lift. All other zones required you to go outside and connect outdoors. I say a huge queue to get into Zone B. After a brief inquiry to the security guard, I was directed to a tent where AA passengers were being staged. Basically, they would not let you into the terminal until the airline decided to process checkins for that flight. There was a giant crowd already, and only people for an LAX flight were being let in. However, because I was first class, I got a personal escort into the terminal building and was dropped off at first class checkin, where there was no line. I was issued a boarding pass, a clear plastic bag, and had all of my bags checked without issue. I was looking forward to a pleasant stay in the lounge.

However, going upstairs there was a gigantic queue for the security area. I made repeated inquiries about fast track but was told it was not operational and that "fast track" was only for people whose flight was departing shortly. I saw no other alternative but to join the queue, so I started walking to the end of the terminal - and walking, walking, walking, walking. The queue streteched down the hall with arrivals lounges, over a skywalk out of the building, and into a holding area in the rear of an outdoor parking structure. I was seriously worried about making my flight at this time.

The queue moved in fits and starts. It took an hour to get into the terminal building. Overall, it took three hours to clear security. Periodically, people would walk along and call for flights with near term departures. For example, anyone with a 2:15 or earlier flight, follow me. (Usually this would happen about 30-45 minutes after the flight was scheduled to have departed). Also, various agents from airlines would come fetch passengers for their flights. The Air Canada agents were particularly friendly. "Anybody going to Vancouver? Anybody want to go to Vancouver?" No one from American ever put in an appearance, however. About two hours into the wait, announcements started that no one should queue for security until 60 minutes prior to their flight. I stayed put.

When I got close to security, my flight was about 30 minutes from departure. I flashed my boarding pass to someone in the hopes I'd get put through. They said, "Oh, you're first class - get in the fast track line". I wanted to scream. But they did put me into "fast track", which still took 30-45 minutes to get through.

Overall, the queue management for security lines was horrible. A true embarrassment for BAA. No employees really seemed to know what was going on. They gave conflicting answers or no answers at all. Two quick examples. There was a gap in the queue between the skywalk to the garage and the terminal building proper. This was to let people exiting cross over. Well, at some point the BAA employees just left and stopped "minding the gap" with the result that many people started queuing after the gap instead of at the end of the real queue. One of the other people in line basically made an executive decision to just move forward past the rope. Number two was two people I chatted with in the lounge. They got through in an hour. They said there was so much confusing that employees were just splitting the queues into groups at random, so they attached themselves to one group that just happened to be taken to the front of the line. Also, the BAA employees were variably rude to the people in line. And of course there was my fast track experience. This has to be fixed pronto. I can understand why the airlines are complaining.

The screening process itself is simple. Scan your plastic bag in the detector, along with shoes, belts, and jackets. You then get a personal pat down. The UK seems to have instituted outbound passport control. They don't stamp your passport, but they do inspect it to see when you arrived, and ask a lot of questions.

Once through, I was basically home free. Just hang out in the lounge until the flight, which was of course delayed. Given that you couldn't even get out of the tent easily, I can't imagine anyone made it through security in time for the flight. I know I didn't. What's more, included in that was our flight crew. Our flight took a significant delay because the crew was stuck in security. According to the lounge staff, there is no security bypass or priority line for crew, which is astonishing. This could have been wrong, but I do recall a pilot arguing with one of the BAA drones about trying to get to his flight, so its certainly possible. There was a perfunctory pat down at the gate are, but nothing that delayed me.

We left about three hours late, and had a nice flight back to the USA. The flight attendants were super. Luckily there was a good movie selection (by AA standards) including classics like Orson Wells "Touch of Evil", as well as of course the small selection of video tape movies for first class.

In Chicago, Customs (yes, Customs) was questioning everybody coming in, though they didn't seem to be doing too many bag inspections.

On the whole, I'd sum it up as "It could have been a lot worse, but having said that, it was still pretty bad". I heard a lot of horror stories from other passengers who'd been trying to get home for a couple days, as well as seeing the look of joy on people's faces when told, after clearing the three hour security line, that their flight was canceled.

My advice to passengers:

- Don't show up ridiculously early for your flight. You'll only spend it cooling your heels outside the terminal building, especially if you are in economy.

- Don't even bother queueing for security if the line looks ridiculously long. Rather, just enjoy a Starbucks or a pint and wait until it gets close to your flight time, then join the people getting pulled to the front. Keep in mind, once you reach the "front", you still have to wait about 30-40 minutes.

My advice to BAA:

- Get the security queue management sorted pronto, including customer communications.
- Stay vigilant to make sure the staff are not rude. I thought the people standing in line were far politer than the staff. (Airline staff appeared to be very professional, however)

Hope you found this interesting.
Posts: 612
Joined: Wed Apr 27, 2005 10:25 pm

RE: The Heathrow Security Experience

Mon Aug 14, 2006 11:43 pm

Thank you, thank you for this information. I travel through LHR quite often and flelt like I was there. I also fly First Class or Business Class to and from LHR for the sole purpose of the fast track lane.

This is the first detailed report I have read or heard since the security alert started.

I will be going to London, probably late Sept. or early October. I am seriously, seriously thinking of trying Maxijet IAD-STN. I know it is further from central London but still might save plenty of time as the crowds and lines at STN should be smaller and shorter. I have not ruled out IAD-BRU or IAD-CDG and the Eurostar.

In my fantasy, I would like to think that perhaps this mess that came after the security alert would cause the powers that be, in the UK, to really think long and hard about a new airport to replace LHR. However, in reality, I know this will not happen. However, something will have to be done, at least in management of the BAA to handle the crowds during the 2012 Olympics. That is another nightmare waiting to happen.

Again, thank you, thank you for the post. Safe travels.
Posts: 754
Joined: Sat Oct 20, 2001 8:21 am

RE: The Heathrow Security Experience

Tue Aug 15, 2006 1:26 am

Quoting CHIFLYGUY (Thread starter):
Only one of the three lifts was in operation

Quoting CHIFLYGUY (Thread starter):
No employees really seemed to know what was going on.

Actually that's fairly normal for LHR!  Sad Things have been worse since Thursday but T3 is generally a bloody nightmare at the best of times. Roll on T5! (and please BAA, make sure there are 'enough' x-ray machines in T5 as opposed to 'the bare minimum needed to cope on a quiet day') The BAA's attitude seems to be: 'You haven't got any choice so use our airport or sod off. Now, how many over-priced novelty tea-pots in the shape of Buckingham Palace would you like?'

Today the threat level has been reduced meaning people are allowed to carry hand-baggage again (although not liquids) but the BAA still need another day to explain this to their staff and have told all the resident airlines to cut services by 20% so that security can cope. If I were a boss at an airline using LHR I'd be sending a bloody big bill to the BAA for all the extra expense and loss of revenue. Other UK airports have coped and are now back to near normal so why can't LHR?  Angry

Welcome to A.Net and thanks for a great first post. Big grin
Biggidy biggidy bong
Posts: 729
Joined: Sun Jun 26, 2005 6:28 pm

RE: The Heathrow Security Experience

Tue Aug 15, 2006 2:03 am

Quoting Airchabum (Reply 2):
Other UK airports have coped and are now back to near normal so why can't LHR?

Due to the volume of flights and the specific threats. A public forum isn't the palce to go into detail like that.
Posts: 403
Joined: Tue Jul 03, 2001 2:33 am

RE: The Heathrow Security Experience

Thu Aug 17, 2006 7:32 pm


An old girlfriend used to work in WH Smiths in LHR.
The BAA staff were the ones who always took the colour supplements from all the Sunday newspapers and put them in their own newspaper.

"They think they own the place" she used to tell me.
Well, they do.
BCal Dc10
Posts: 737
Joined: Thu Jul 26, 2001 9:47 pm

RE: The Heathrow Security Experience

Thu Aug 17, 2006 8:35 pm

anyone know if T3 fast track is doing what it is supposed to do and take premium pax again?
Am flying out in J on saturday from T3 - just curious. ta.
Posts: 511
Joined: Thu Oct 07, 2004 2:56 am

RE: The Heathrow Security Experience

Thu Aug 17, 2006 8:55 pm

Having worked at LHR for 7 years now, I must agree that BAA is a complete joke. The problem is that they have their priorities all wrong: let's face it, for BAA, the number 1 priority is RETAIL. Shops, more bloody shops all over the place.

It is so fustrating to see the queues at security, even before the latest events. Generally only about half of all the X-Ray lanes are opened, and at each lane, 2-4 employees are just yacking away amongst themselves instead of being pro-active and getting things moving.

It's about time that competition got into the airport operator business. BAA would have to seriously re-think everything it does.
Posts: 8777
Joined: Thu May 30, 2002 6:54 am

RE: The Heathrow Security Experience

Thu Aug 17, 2006 9:06 pm

Quoting CHIFLYGUY (Thread starter):
According to the lounge staff, there is no security bypass or priority line for crew, which is astonishing.

There is a seperate staff entrance for all crew/staff. The lines there were probably ridiculously long as well though.
"The A340-300 may boast a long range, but the A340 is underpowered" -- Robert Milton, CEO - Air Canada

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