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US Citizen just passing through Heathrow-to-Gatwick - help!

Hi folks,

So. I have a ticket on British Airways, from Berlin to JFK; with a connection in London. However, the Berlin-London leg lands in Heathrow, and the London-JFK leg takes off from Gatwick. And BA has given me 3 hours and 15 minutes to transfer. Assume that I cannot change that, please.

I've discovered a fantastic guide to "how to get from Heathrow to Gatwick", and am confident the travel time between airports is doable (especially since I will not be using any checked baggage, I will only have my carryon). I also have ensured my passport is up-to-date. However - I've been hearing a couple horror stories about the passport control area of Heathrow, which a) actually run counter to my own experience and b) seem a little unlikely (someone told me their sister had a three-hour wait in line, but that was their sister and it was in the middle of summer; I am alone and flying on an odd day in fall). But I'm spooked enough to want to ask.

So - what exactly is Heathrow's passport control process for a US passport holder, who is only transferring airports and then leaving for the US? I've seen people elsewhere talk about an "e-passport" kiosk, would that be something I would be able ot use as a US citizen? Is there a streamlined "just passing through" passport line I should look for? I would already have my passport and my boarding pass for my connection in Gatwick out and ready, and again, I would be travelling only with my one carryon bag and a purse.

Thanks!

Posted by
7205 posts

Did you know 2 different airports were involved when you bought the tickets? Sounds like a question better suited for a BA representative to answer. Please do come back and tell us what you find.

Posted by
8889 posts

There is no "airside" transfer between the two airports, so you have to go through immigration at Heathrow to enter the UK, and at Gatwick exit again.
Is the airline providing transport between the two airports, or are you having to find your own way?
There is no direct train service, and by road it will take 1 hour on a good day, but the M25 is notorious for delays. Plus time to disembark, immigration, 30-60 minutes. Plus how often do the buses run? Plus 30-60 minutes to get through Gatwick.

I would say 3 hours is tight for this connection. I would not do it. I am surprised you can't either fly direct to Berlin, or find a connecting flight from Heathrow.

Posted by
8 posts

I actually did NOT know at the time I bought the ticket that I would be transferring airports - I bought a "super-saver" fare on a cheap-travel web site, and it was playing coy about the details until I actually bought the ticket. It was a bit of a gamble, but every other part of the trip is great. I have also spoken to both the web site AND a representative at BA, and they insist that yes, 3 hours is enough time. Transit is on me to do.

To be clear: I am comfortable with the getting-from-Heathrow-to-Gatwick part. I am asking solely about getting through the passport control when I get to Heathrow, so that I can get through that quickly and be on my way to the bus/taxi/train to Gatwick and off again.

Posted by
8 posts

Oh - and Chris, unfortunately my itinerary was a multi-city one, so my outbound flight was not actually Berlin. Any other flight was prohibitively expensive, unfortunately.

Posted by
5297 posts

Here is what British Airways says about the transfer:
*London Heathrow and Gatwick airports are located approximately 48km (30 miles) apart. We recommend that you allow at least 3 hours if you're connecting between these airports.

Your baggage will not be automatically forwarded so please collect all your bags before leaving Heathrow or Gatwick airport.

The best way to travel directly between Heathrow and Gatwick is to take a National Express coach. It is fast, frequent, safe and great value for money:

Heathrow to Gatwick coach services run 80 times a day, and the journey takes up to an hour.
Coach services arrive and depart from the lower level outside the international Arrivals area at Heathrow.
All British Airways flights operate from London Gatwick South Terminal, however you can choose which Gatwick terminal you want to alight at.
You can buy National Express coach tickets at the ticketing office in the international Arrivals area, or online to get a great fare using the link below.*

As for wait times for immigration, it can get busy but moves quickly, you might approach a BA agent upon landing and ask about expediting you through Immigration, especially if you arrive in the hall and it is packed. The advice to buy a ticket online above may be wise as well, no checked luggage is also a good idea.

Posted by
8 posts

Paul: as I said, I already know about the actual transit between airports.

I am asking about how to expedite the passport process so that I can get to the National express bus.

Posted by
4368 posts

Whilst three hours does sound excessive there is no rough figure for the time it takes to clear Heathrow immigration. The time of year doesn't matter, Heathrow is always busy.

Whilst I have experienced expedited clearance as a result of a tight connection I have never experienced it at Heathrow nor have I witnessed it. I suspect because there are so many tight connections there an expedited queue would turn out to be anything but.

US visitors can use the e-gates provided they meet the required criteria, you must have a biometric passport and you must have visited the UK on 4 separate occasions in the previous 24 months. The cost is £70 for the first 12 months.

There is no streamlined, "just passing through" line. Families with children frequently are ushered into a expedited line but that is it.

As has already been highlighted, the M25 is horrendous and one can never rely on Google maps or any other site to reliably predict an average journey time. Whilst there have been occasions when I've breezed along it relatively unscathed there are enough times when I've crawled along to know that I could never rely on it being an easy journey. There is no rush hour on the M25, it's always rush hour. You could try it by train which would be more consistent timewise but it's a bit of a headache.

Personally I wouldn't do it but clearly you have no choice. There are no shortcuts or ways to expedite the immigration/transfer process. Good luck!

Posted by
503 posts

I transit through Heathrow fairly frequently and JC is correct. There is no way to expedite through Heathrow immigration and customs unless you have a biometric passport or an EU passport holder. The time required to get through immigration and customs is dependent upon how many flights have arrived at the same time yours has and how well staffed immigration and customs is - I've made it through in 30 minutes and up to two hours - it really just depends.
Wear your running shoes and keep your fingers crossed - good luck!!!

Posted by
1880 posts

After reading the responses from those who are familiar with Gatwick, I guess THE QUESTION I would be asking BA is:

If I don't make the connection (due to either delays at immigration/passport control OR traffic), will you put me on the next available flight for no extra cost?

If the answer is NO, then it could wind up being a very costly ticket that appeared inexpensive when you booked.

Do you have travel insurance that will provide any missed-connection coverage? And, there is the CHANCE if you call BA ahead of time (like now), you MIGHT be able to talk them into changing your ticket (without a change fee) to a longer connection (maybe).

But, there is also the chance that if all goes nicely, you may make the connection with no problem. But, it's a gamble.

Posted by
8 posts

....This just in, and may be relevant!

I saw some of you discussing "biometric passports" and got curious about that. And - if the information on this website is accurate - it looks like I actually DO have a biometric passport. (At least, it has that little symbol on the cover.)

Does that help things any?

Posted by
4368 posts

As I explained in my post you need to have a biometric passport but also have travelled to the UK on four separate occasions in the previous 24 months. You need to apply for Registered Traveller status in order to use the e-gates and for which you must meet the aforementioned requirements and pay the fee. However, on your first travel of membership you are required to go through the normal immigration process in order for your application to be confirmed so you still won't be able to transit through any faster. https://www.gov.uk/registered-traveller

Posted by
1849 posts

Does that help things any?

no - you still queue up with everyone else

the e passport gate is different (referenced earlier)

Posted by
8889 posts

Everybody in Europe has an e-passport with a chip, nothing special.
A few years ago the US added a condition that you needed an e-passport for visa free entry. So all the Europen countries started issuing them, and some other countries imposed the same requirement on US passport holders.

Posted by
12205 posts

We did the Heathrow to Gatwick transfer once to fly on BA from Seattle to Venice. We had around 3 hours and we did make it, using the NationL Express bus. But that was 14 years ago, and traffic on the motorway is apparently worse these days. Also, we were flying Business Class so we were first off the plane, and we had "Fast Track", a special line, through the immigration area. With an Economy ticket you will take longer to get off the plane, and you are not entitled to use the Fast Track lanes.

Assuming you are on one ticket, they should put you on another flight if you miss the ticketed one, but that may require traveling back to LHR.

BA has 8 flights a day from LHT to JFK, plus a few from LHR ago EWR. You might see what it would cost to change to one of those flights departing from LHR instead of stressing over the airport transfer. Unfortunately, since you bought the ticket from a third party, it means going through them for the change, and they may be difficult to work with. You would have to pay any additional cost of the ticket at current prices, plus a change fee. However, depending on when you are going, it is possible that the price for the ticket has actually dropped since you bought it. I just saw prices as low as £325 for the LHR to JFK flights in November.

Posted by
8 posts

Hi all,

I feel like I've been cranky sometimes in my responses, so apologies for that - I do understand that everyone is just trying to help.

Paul actually had a good idea about speaking to someone in Heathrow when I land there about needing to make a connection in Gatwick, to see how they may be able to rush me through the passport check.

Another point:

It can depend on your landing time. A lot of flights from the US arrive first thing in the morning and in my experience that can cause a jam at passport control. Heathrow is also a big airport so just walking through the corridors can take time.

that's as may be, but I'm not arriving from the US. The flight in question goes like this:

Depart Berlin at 11:30 am local time
Land in Heathrow at 1:30 pm local time
Depart Gatwick at 4:45 pm local time
Land in JFK at about 9 pm Local Time

So I'm not arriving FROM the US, I am an American Citizen attempting to RETURN to the US. This flight is also happening on a Saturday, if it's relevant.

Posted by
8 posts

Oh, and as for Heathrow's size - the Guide To Transferring Airports I linked in my initial post has a very good illustrated guide to "here is where you find the stop for the National Express bus" and "here is where you meet a taxi if that's what you're doing", so I'm not concerned about the size of Heathrow. Again, that is also something I can speak to a BA Agent about both in the plane and right when I land.

Well, Saturday mid-afternoon should be better in terms of the M25 than arriving on a weekday morning...

But then you're not interested in travel times between the two airports, are you? ;-)

But it IS relevant...

Posted by
205 posts

am asking about how to expedite the passport process

You don't. You join the queue like everyone else. (Cf. entering the US at JFK and asking to be rushed through because you a have flight to Cancun from Newark). The fact that you are "only transferring airports" really isn't going to get you into the country more quickly (if it does I will gave a serious word with my MP).

No way would I try that transfer given the time you have. You may be confident but that doesn't mean you will make it. One minor shunt on the M25 and it's game over. So the big question is are you happy to buy a walk up ticket if you miss the second flight? Only you know that.

Posted by
4528 posts

Possibly more importantly it isn't at an predictably busy time for immigration - although that can happen at any time.

You will have protection if this is a genuine through itinerary. If however it is two tickets sold back to back by the bargain site then you wouldn't. You need to see if it has one or two ticket numbers - the long ones starting with 125- presuming they have been bought by the third party from BA.

BA will sell this as a legal connection incidentally.

Posted by
2627 posts

I hope your flight into Heathrow is not running late.

Lola's third paragraph offers a good suggestion, "BA has 8 flights a day from LHT to JFK, plus a few from LHR ago EWR. You might see what it would cost to change to one of those flights departing from LHR instead of stressing over the airport transfer."
I would give this a try. What could it hurt to check on this?

Posted by
2746 posts

It would probably cancel out your savings of the bargain air fare to take a taxi between the two, but if you found you'd just missed the bus and had to wait for the next one, and/or if there's a crowd of people waiting to board the next bus, a taxi with a motivated driver might be the better way to make your connection on time.

Posted by
12205 posts

When are you traveling? I do not see anything on the BA schedule through March that matches what you list. ---depart Berlin 11:30, arrive LHR 1:30. Moreover, that would be a three-hour flight, while every BA flight to LHR is scheduled as 2 hours 5 minutes. Something seems off there.

I will note that the longest wait we have had at Heathrow passport control was when we arrived at T5 around 1:30 pm on a flight from Rome in Economy (no Fast Track access). The line for non-EU citizens was long and was not moving, as there were only two kiosks open ( it seemed to be lunchtime). At 2:00, more agents arrived to man the kiosks, and things started to move, but it still took well over an hour to get through.

As others have stated, you are not entitled to expedited processing through immigration simply because you are only transferring between airports. You still must "enter" the U.K. and will have to wait in the same line as everyone else to reach an agent. At that point, the question process should be quick, but up until then, you are no different from any other passenger seeking entry.

Posted by
8 posts

It is indeed a through itinerary, sold by British Airways as a package. A BA agent told me flat-out that "we would not have sold you that connection if were not possible to make it."

I mis-spoke when I said the time my flight departed Berlin; the 1:30 pm landing in Heathrow is accurate, though.

And message received on whether there is an "expedited" passport line, all; I still think it was a fair question as to whether there existed a dedicated line for those who need to make airplane connections because they were just passing through or something.

Posted by
3182 posts

This must be a OneWorld Alliance issue. American Airlines does the same thing in New York between JFK and LaGuardia airports.

Posted by
362 posts

Despite the horror stories you may have read, I found that going through passport control at Heathrow was a pretty straightforward process. The longest part of the experience (for me) was getting from one end of Heathrow to another, because they were doing massive amounts of construction at the time. That part took seemingly forever compared to the actual talking to someone and handing over my passport.

(Then again, we'd just had multiple delays and reroutes from hell just to arrive there and change planes for our final destination. I was so tired when we landed that I have no good memories of going through Heathrow. But the actual presentation of your passport and going through customs was relatively straightforward.)

I do agree with those who say to wear your running shoes. Have fun on your trip!)

Posted by
12205 posts

Since you are on one ticket, all BA, with a legal connection, you should be OK in the long run ( meaning you are protected and can be put on a different flight if you miss the Gatwick one due to lateness attributed to BA). Just know that your JFK flight is the last one from Gatwick, so if you get stuck in traffic and miss it, you will likely have to travel back to LHR for another. But you can consult with the BA service reps to know what to do.

And if your incoming flight from Berlin should land so late that you cannot possibly make the connections, check with the BA reps airside to adjust your ticket before you head toward "arrivals" to go to Gatwick. Ask there to be put on a substitute flight from LHR.

Posted by
3182 posts

a dedicated line for those who need to make airplane connections

Schiphol in Amsterdam has this when lines are long. Of the big four (others LHR, CDG, FRA), AMS is the best bet for making connections.

Posted by
4528 posts

But this is more like arriving at AMS and needing to connect to RTM. LHR has dedicated desks for those needing to clear immigration for connecting flights within the Common Travel Area in the same way that AMS does for Schengen. If this was all within LHR there would be no passport formalities at all.

The IATA minimum for a LHR-LGW transfer which was probably set back in the Dark Ages is only 2.5 hours. Many airlines won't sell under 3.5 hours.

Note if the connection is undoable due to delays etc, don't necessarily expect to be rerouted from LHR, especially if at LGW. An alternative offer could easily be a hotel room and a flight the next day.

Posted by
3182 posts

LHR has dedicated desks for those needing to clear immigration for connecting flights within the Common Travel Area

So this IS available after all for the OP a bypass line for people connecting flights, didn't all previous posts said that there wasn't? That it's at another airport shouldn't matter.

Posted by
25746 posts

LHR has dedicated desks for those needing to clear immigration for connecting flights within the Common Travel Area

But the Common Travel Area has nothing to do with this case. The Common Travel Area comprises the UK and Ireland.

Posted by
3182 posts

I guess I don't see why that is relevant. The OP needs a UK stamp and that process would give him one.

But I don't know the floorplan involved. Why after getting his UK stamp couldn't he just U turn out of the terminal instead of heading for connecting gates? Or do they screen boarding passes for certain destinations, not just by time of departure as at AMS?

Posted by
4528 posts

So this IS available after all for the OP a bypass line for people connecting flights, didn't all previous posts said that there wasn't? That it's at another airport shouldn't matter.

It was though the equivalent to the situation you introduced into this thread directly above my post for those connecting at AMS (and not entering the Netherlands to go to another airport). It doesn't however apply to the OP's situation (not that I implied that it did).

Posted by
3182 posts

(not that I implied that it did)

But it is still completely NOT apparent why it would not work, unless maybe screening passengers for boarding pass destinations is part of the Heathrow process (it is not at AMS).

Posted by
12334 posts

I discount the horror stories as fairy tales, be it at London LHR or Paris CDG. Only one time at LHR did I think the Passport control was excessively long. That was a few years ago when I landed in the late afternoon coming from SFO. That experience I chalk up as a mistake on my part by choosing a flight that didn't arrive at LHR in the morning. US passport holders are treated in no special way.

Posted by
3182 posts

Still puzzled. So there's a departure area at Heathrow where passengers can only embark and planes never unload? Not sure I've seen that before.

Posted by
8889 posts

Tom. most airports have separated departure and arrival areas. Separate corridors. Arriving and departing passengers are strictly separated.
Most terminals have departures on an upper level and arrivals on a lower level.

If you need to get from "arrivals" to "departures" you follow the "transit" or "connecting flights" signs, and that usually involves some sort of ID/boarding card check and possibly security (bag X-ray plus metal detector), both the same as you need to get into departures from "landside".

Posted by
1217 posts

Think of the international gate areas like cattle pens (because, well they rather are) . As the arriving plane approaches the jet bridge, the gate agent/airport staffer moves a door/movable partition/cattle pen gate located right at the point where the jet bridge meets the terminal proper so arriving passengers are funneled down a specific hallway, typically down a flight of stairs, that will take you to the immigration and customs area. After the plane is empty of passengers and if you're lucky given a token sweep by a cleaning crew, catering is loaded, and anything else that is easier done when there are no passenger on the plane is completed, the gate agent moves the door or partition so the way to immigration is closed and way between departure lounge and plane is reopened to get ready for your (hopefully) on-time departure.

Posted by
7477 posts

The only thought I have for getting through the 'process' at LHR, is to have a biz or 1st class ticket and make use of the special fast lanes BA provides as you move through. Been too many years since I was there to accurately remember if that was for the security lines as I changed planes at LHR or if it included going through immigration as I changed terminals to get to the onward flight..

However as OP chose a bargain fare, upgrading to biz class probably is not an option.

As suggested earlier, contact BA and find out what they do if you miss the connection. Do they take care of it, or are you buying a new ticket?

good luck!

Posted by
3182 posts

most airports have separated departure and arrival areas. Separate corridors. Arriving and departing passengers are strictly separated.
Most terminals have departures on an upper level and arrivals on a lower level.

Not in the US, I can't think of a situation where this would occur. Of course there is no separation in the US of international departures from domestic departures (or arrivals) so it's not the same. And note that I am not saying that arrivals to the US are not routed through chutes, but that is not the case we are talking about.

At Keflavik the arrivals and departures are mingled, planes unload right into the departure waiting area. I think at Marseille this happens also, although domestic flights are rare. And Amsterdam too, planes discharge right into the departure area whether you are connecting or not. I've used Frankfurt and Heathrow but can't recall specifics there. I do remember that Frankfurt had gate located security, not terminal-wide which I thought strange. Not sure where departures and arrivals are separated but thinking that those locations are the exception.

Posted by
8889 posts

I remember years ago, at airports like Heathrow where there are long corridors between the terminals and the gates at the end of the piers, people walked both ways through the corridors. When they tightened security they erected partitions down the middle of the corridors to separate the people departing from those arriving. And as Selkie says, they have doors/movable partitions to keep the two flows separate at the gate.

As far as security is concerned, anybody in the departure lounge is "clean", they have gone through security. Anybody arriving is "dirty", as many foreign airports have less security checks. So they must not be allowed to mingle with the departing passengers, in case they slip them anything.

Departing international passengers used to be separated from domestic passengers. This is not done as much now, as ID checks are required for all passengers, everybody needs to show ID to get into the departure lounge, and ID is matched with the names on boarding cards at the gate.

Arriving international and domestic (+intra-Schengen) passengers are still separated, as the former need passport (immigration) checks, and the latter do not.

Posted by
3182 posts

I hope the OP didn't mind this diversion. I cannot recall experiencing this type of separation described at Heathrow. I have seen the "top level" at AMS and wondered what it was for, and how arriving passengers could conceivably be directed up there, but arriving US passengers just spill out into the terminal. Trying to picture GLA arrivals but it's been too many years, and most go thru passport there anyway. Heathrow ages ago. I've used CDG but only terminal 1 where I don't remember any separation, either.

Planes arriving in the USA from Canada, Aruba, Freeport, Nassau, Dublin, Shannon, and Abu Dhabi, are pre-screened for security and immigration and spill right into the the departure area. Unfortunately plans to add AMS were nixed after a Dutch disagreement with Trump. There are plans to add Keflavik which would be a huge plus, since then the layover in either direction (to Schengen, to USA) would be spent on immigration queues and not wasted.

Posted by
4368 posts

Not in the US, I can't think of a situation where this would occur.

But we're not discussing airports in the US we're discussing Heathrow.

Terminal 5 at Heathrow which is used solely by British Airways and code sharers. Departures depart from upstairs and arrivals arrive downstairs, two very distinct and separate areas.

Posted by
1173 posts

Unfortunately for the OP, I don’t think he can use the connections route. When I used it last year they checked to see that you had a connection departing from another terminal. You go through a passport check but do not get an entry stamp. And you go through a security screening.

Posted by
9794 posts

When making a connection at Heathrow, the "passport check" is not from immigration, it is from the airline. They are making sure you have a valid passport before getting on a connecting flight. If you don't, and get on the flight, the airline can get fined.

Posted by
1540 posts

Sure would like to know if the OP made the connection - please let us know.....we are all sending positive thoughts.