The ancient walls of the royal home and fortress of Windsor Castle, where Queen Elizabeth was probably sipping a cup of English breakfast tea that very moment, were within eyeshot as we pulled over at the entrance of T5.
As I looked at the gargantuan glass building on the left, I was struck by the contrast of old and new, the juxtaposition of tradition and modernity that had always made England so charming. And when I finally stepped inside Heathrow’s much-lauded new terminal, it was clear that T5 was taking the UK experience to a whole new level.
For added value, it will become the exclusive home of British Airways, which will be moving 90 percent of its operations into T5 and the remaining 10 percent (namely BA’s hub for oneworld Australasian flights and some European services) to Terminal 3, when it opens for business on March 27, 2008.
To me a good airport solves the dilemma of space and short distances. T5 does just that: Although it’s large enough to absorb thousands of travelers daily, you won’t have to walk vast distances from check-in to your point of departure.
As our guide explained, the new terminal, designed by Rogers, Stirk, Harbour & Partners and built at a cost of £4.3 billion, will be capable of handling 30 million customers a year. The layout, with its flowing, linear plan, means that it would take approximately 10 minutes to drop your bags and go through security, since around 80 percent of BA travelers will check in online, while the remainder will enjoy the use of 96 electronic check in kiosks and then drop their luggage at one of over 100 drop off desks, where BA staff will be available to handle excess baggage issues – no more having to queue at the cashier then queue up again at the counter.
More than 30,000 square meters of glass have been used to glaze the 40 m high and 396 m main building, making it light, airy and modern as well as helping to cut on energy costs. In fact environmental concerns have been high on the agenda, with 85 percent of waste on the project recovered, recycled and reused throughout the building process.
The waste heat from an existing combined heat and power plant will also be piped into T5 to provide it with 85 percent of its heat and save around 11,000 tons of CO2 per year. Rain water will also be harvested and used to cut the demand on public water supply by 70 percent.
A customized baggage handling system, built on a unique program used in only three other airports (Oslo, Amsterdam and Hong Kong) will process over 12,000 bags per hour and can, at any given time, locate a piece of luggage. This would minimize delays if passengers in an emergency need to leave the flight. It also means that luggage should have arrived at the carousel by the time passengers are done with customs and immigration.
Once you’ve whizzed through the security checks, which have minimal human contact (with biometric checks for domestic passengers where fingerprints are electronically scanned at security, upon boarding and then deleted) you’ll have an array of shops and restaurants to enjoy. The 112 boutiques include the only Tiffany store in an airport worldwide and a signature dining opportunity at Plane Food, run by celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey.
Premium customers who travel first class and club world will enjoy the Galleries. Capable of hosting up to 2,500 people, the luxury lounges offer a full hotel experience with showers, a concierge service to take care of anything from booking theater tickets, to taxis and even a spa offering a selection of complimentary 15-minute treatments.
Computers and free internet services are also available – and to top it off, there’s even a small movie theater with comfortable couches, a number of executive meeting rooms and a kidzone for the little people.
Stay tuned to read our review when it all comes to life late March, or start planning your next London trip from now so you can see for yourself.
. Each of T5’s 5 floors is the size of 10 football pitches. T5 is as big as Hyde Park. The underground parking garage can house 4000 cars and includes a car-finder service and bay monitor to find space quickly. More than 300,000 trees, shrubs and plants are used to landscape the area, all specially chosen not to attract birds. Gates will be no more than a six-minute walk from security . 18 km of baggage belts transport the luggage around the terminal. Families will be pre-seated together two days before departure . The six premium customer lounges cover an area of 15,000 square meters