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Clearing customs with no checked luggage

We're flying into Heathrow in October (arriving at 10:15am on a Tuesday) and I'm trying to guesstimate how long it will take us to get out of the airport so I can book our train tickets from Kings Cross Station to York later that day. I don't want to book the tickets too early and then miss our train (as they're non-refundable), but I also don't want to be sitting around Kings Cross Station for a couple of hours.

We're only travelling with carry-on luggage, which will hopefully make things faster, but I have no idea how long to allow for disembarking, customs, etc.?

Any advice would be welcome!

Posted by
15539 posts

Considering your flight could be late, there could be a long line at passport control, they might stop you at customs (doubtful), there could be a delay on the tube, etc, etc.....give yourself a minimum of three hours from touchdown to departure. Perhaps even a little more.

Even if everything runs smoothly, it's better to get to Kings Cross early, relax, have a cup of tea and a scone, than to stress out over a few minutes.

Posted by
873 posts

Unless you are making a stop and clearing passport control at some point before you land at Heathrow, I would agree with the above post and say maximize your time between touchdown and train departure. Better safe than sorry with non-refundable tickets!

Posted by
8700 posts

Since you plan to buy non-refundable, non-exchageable discount fare tickets, play it extra safe and allow four hours between your scheduled arrival time at Heathrow and your scheduled departure time from King's Cross. If your plane is on time and you aren't delayed getting through immigration/passport control, you'll have about two hours to kill after getting to King's Cross on the Tube. If you experience any delays, you'll be glad you built in some extra connection time.

Posted by
970 posts

I agree with all the above comments. Going with only carryon means you'll get to passport control before the folks with checked bags. The length of the queue there will depend on how many other flights discharge passengers at the same time. Evenings seem to be the busiest. I arrived last year at about 8:30am and was out of the airport in a bit over 90 minutes, including getting off the aircraft and walking to passport control.

(Note: Keep an eye out for a restroom as you walk through the airport to passport control, 'cause once you're in the queue there, you're stuck.)

Pad your schedule to account for the unexpected, rather than anticipate good fortune. Don't forget to factor in the time to get into town from Heathrow and then to King's Cross.

If you are retrieving tickets at King's Cross, you may, or may not, face a bit of a queue. You'll see machines (feed in the credit card you used to buy the tickets and the magic number they gave you). You'll see a few actual human beings selling tickets, with customers waiting in a queue.

Starting around 4pm or so, King's Cross will start to fill up with commuters. Places to sit are hard to come by at any time, more so during the rush.

Take a few minutes to reconnoiter the station, so you can find your train when it's called.

The British Library is within a few hundred yards of King's Cross, just west on Euston Road. You could, in theory, leave your bags at the station's Left Luggage, walk down and tour the Library, stop at a cafe and grab some coffee, etc. before departing. St Pancras station is next door to King's Cross, and merits a bit of attention, too.

BTW, York station is about a ten-minute walk from the city center, but I'd suggest taking a cab to your hotel or B&B. York isn't exactly laid out in a grid pattern, and the last thing I'd want to do after such a long day of travel is wander its twisty-turny medieval streets trailing luggage and looking for my destination.

Posted by
11 posts

Thanks for all your advice! We've actually decided to start out in Bath instead of York now so I'm not quite so stressed out about timing. Since the Heathrow Connect train heads straight to Paddington station every 30 minutes and the trip to Bath itself isn't too long I guess I'll book our tickets for late afternoon and we'll just do some sightseeing around the station for a couple of hours if we get there early. Anything of interest near Paddington station that we should look for? Will there be somewhere at this station where we can leave our luggage too?

Posted by
15539 posts

No need to backtrack into London. You can take a bus from Heathrow to Reading train station, and then transfer to a train to Bath.

Posted by
1829 posts

"Going with only carryon means you'll get to passport control before the folks with checked bags"

You have to go through Immigration/passport control before you can collect your luggage.

Posted by
12172 posts

I've been really lucky and breezed through but I would never plan/count on it.

Posted by
1 posts

I recommend the direct bus from Heathrow to Bath, you don't have to buy tickets in advance then you don't have to worry about making a particular schedule. We did that a few years ago on my first trip to London and it worked out really well. The buses were comfortable and it was nice not to have to worry about making more connections when you are fuzzy after a long flight.

Posted by
1829 posts

"from Heathrow to Bath for about 67 GBP one way"

??? would not get many takers at that price.

Posted by
970 posts

"You have to go through Immigration/passport control before you can collect your luggage."

Are you sure, Linda? My memories, albeit possibly faulty, are that checked luggage is retrieved before passport control. Then, you walk through the Green or Red customs lanes and leave the airport.

Posted by
970 posts

£67 is a bit steep to get from Heathrow to Bath, but it might be worth it if time is more important than money. Catching a bus to Reading station (west of London and west of Heathrow) and grabbing a train to Bath is also a very good alternative. The return trip will end at Paddington.

The neighborhood around Paddington is not a sightseeing mecca. I'd just accept that you'll need to kill some time either in the station or very nearby.

Posted by
5635 posts

j.c., Linda is correct. I've travelled through Heathrow dozens of times (most recently in April) and I have always gone through immigration (passport control) first. After you exit passport control you walk through the baggage claim area and then exit through customs.

Posted by
104 posts

Does anyone know how badly backed up passport control is at 9:15 PM? I'm flying in from Greece and going to catch a night train to Scotland at 11:55 PM at Euston.

I'll be traveling light, without a checked bag, and won't have anything to declare at customs. I thought that was enough time, since it's about an hour (worst case) from Heathrow to Euston, but now I'm a bit worried.

Any help would be appreciated.

Posted by
5635 posts

Lexey, the amount of time in the immigration line really depends on the terminal where you arrive and what other flights arrive about the same time. However, if your flight is on-time, you should be ok. I usually take a flight that arrives at 10pm. Have gotten to London by midnight (less than 2 hours from flight touch down to city center by tube) everytime except for one. On my last trip, my flight had mechanical problems so I arrived at Heathrow after midnight.

Posted by
104 posts

Thanks, Laura. I'm coming in to Terminal 4 from Athens. I'll check to see what else is coming in at that time. I am seated at the front of the airplane :-). I think I might buy a bus or plane ticket from Heathrow to Edinburgh as a backup since I have a midmorning flight from Edinburgh north that depends on me catching the sleeper I've already booked :-P. I guess I should have researched the times more, but I thought I would be okay with 2:40. Or I can buy another plane ticket that leaves earlier (although the cheapest is British Airways (!)) or take my chances flying standby on an earlier flight from Olympic...

I'm usually not paranoid, but now I am! What a mess. And I thought I had everything planned so well :-P.

Posted by
15539 posts

Since you're catching a flight out of Edinburgh the next morning....I would forget about the train.

There are no late flights into Edinburgh. My suggestion is this.....take the flight you planned into LHR. Arrange for a room at the Yotel in terminal 4 and catch an early morning plane to Edinburgh. You'll then be in the airport for your next flight north.

The way you have planned you do a lot of extra traveling to and from airports.

BTW--if you're traveling with BA, you'll be arriving in Terminal 5, not 4.

Posted by
1829 posts

jc - the standard fare Heathrow to Bath is about £42. You can get cheaper advance fares.

Posted by
104 posts

Thanks, Frank II. I am starting to realize that too. I just wish I hadn't bought the non-refundable sleeper ticket :-). At least it was only $82 (not spare change, but not a disaster, either). I probably will book an early morning flight and stay at the Yotel, which I didn't know about when I made my original plan. The new plan will cost more than my original one, but you are right that I will not have to travel back and forth from airports (or pay for it, which is a small savings). It's worth it because my flight north from Edinburgh is the critical one to the rest of my itinerary.

BTW, my flight from Athens is on Olympic (the earlier flight I was considering was on BA, which may pose its own problems), which arrives in Terminal 4--convenient for the Yotel, at least! Plus, in the Yotel, I can pretend I'm in the sleeper train :-).

Thanks, Laura and Frank II, for answering my questions. I apologize to Tara for borrowing her thread--thanks for asking the original question, which may avert a disaster on my trip!