Heathrow London Airport Overview
With a record 73.4 million passengers annually, Heathrow (LHR) is by far the most important international airport in London and the busiest aero terminus in the UK. Its passenger turnover puts it on top of the list in Europe and ranks it the sixth busiest airport in the world. With flights to literally every major capital in the world, Heathrow is the starting point to millions of business trips and holiday excursions to every corner of the globe.
History of Heathrow Airport
It had quite humble beginnings though and there were few signs of the future glory. Heathrow borrowed its name from the sleepy hamlet in the western outskirts of London, still bathing in green pasture in the beginning of the 20th century. Then faith intervened – one of Britain’s finest pioneer pilots, Norman Macmillan, had to make an emergency landing just west of London. He found himself among the lavish market gardens of Heathrow but immediately recognized how suitable the land was for any type of aircraft activity. The first tracks appeared in 1929, when the vast, uninhabited meadows of the hamlet were considered perfect for running small, private planes. The “airport” was declared operational in June 1930, though in these early peaceful days it was not much more than a lawn with a small hangar on it. The venture was called Great West Aerodrome – a pompous name for an otherwise amateur affair.
The Second World War changed all that. More and more people understood the importance and future of aviation and saw the great potential of Heathrow. At first it accommodated the 229th squadron of the RAF, whose task was to guard against any attempt on the enemy’s side to attack nearby Northolt. The large-scale construction began in 1944 and Winston Churchill’s plan envisaged Heathrow as the main terminus for the large military planes leaving for the Far East, but by the time it was finished the war had ended. Still, so much had been done that the government decided simply to change its focus. The London Airport was opened for civil flights on March 25th, 1946 and it was renamed to Heathrow in 1966, when it was already one of the most important transport hubs of the capital.
The early version of the airport had six intersecting runways, but as the size of planes grew, so did the required length of the tracks. This lead to the change that is still operational today – two parallel runways in the west-east direction, while the main passenger terminal is in the heart of the hexagon formed by the old tracks. The interesting thing is that they are actually still operational, but for ground transport – airport busses and terminal shuttles that take the passengers to the planes.
As already mentioned Heathrow is the busiest airport not only in the UK, but in Europe as well. But where do the most people come from or travel to? Not surprisingly, the busiest route is between London and New York – a staggering 3 million people annually fly between the two metropolises. The top three also includes Dubai with 2.76 million passengers and Dublin with 1.65 million.
As for internal UK routes, one is hardly surprised to see Edinburgh, Manchester and Glasgow among the top three destinations (with more than three million passengers combined every year).
Location and Access
Heathrow lies approx. 14 miles west of Charing Cross, Central London, in the postal code area of Hounslow. Along with London City, Heathrow is the only airport lying within the boundaries of Greater London and is separated from Berkshire by the M25 motorway. The closest residential areas include Harlington, Longford, Cranford, Hatton and Hounslow.
Because of the huge and constant stream of people traveling to and from Heathrow, the airport has become one of the main transport points in the city. It can be accessed by one of the following options:
- The Heathrow Express from and to Paddington Station – available every 15 minutes;
- Heathrow Connect – runs to Paddington Station with intersections at Hayes and Harlington for connections to Reading; available every 30 minutes;
- London Underground (Piccadilly line) to all terminals; the trip from Heathrow to the central London stations usually takes about 45-50 minutes.
- The N9 line operates during the night to Central London;
- Green Line route 724 to and from Watford, St Albans and Harlow;
- Route X26 to Croydon;
- A10 to Uxbridge.
Heathrow is very easily accessible by car because it is linked to some of the city’s main transport arteries. If you approach the airport by car you would have to use:
- The M4 motorway or the A4 road for Terminals 1-3
- Or the M25 motorway for Terminals 4 and 5.
You should also bear in mind that all the airport forecourts are only drop-off and no-parking areas. Heathrow has multi-storey car park for short and long-term stays.
*Snappy Airport Transfers is available 24/7 for reliable pick-up shuttle transport to the entire M25 perimeter as well as commuter towns in Essex.