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Heathrow connection times - my experience

The Heathrow connection planner gets mentioned here from time to time, so I thought I'd share how their minimum connection times played out in my experience yesterday.

We flew yesterday from Vienna to Heathrow to Washington (on a single reservation), scheduled to arrive at Terminal 3 at 9:25 and depart from Terminal 5 at 11:50. The connection planner said we need 90 minutes for this connection, and we had almost an hour more than that, so we were comfortable booking this connection. I knew that we'd have to take the connector bus between terminals, go through security again, and most likely take the train to the B or C gates in Terminal 5.

But our inbound flight was delayed by almost an hour. British Airways says our official arrival time was 10:20 (I guess that's when we arrived at the gate - we landed at 10:05 and were off the plane around 10:30). So according to the connection planner, we had exactly enough time to make our connection, with no margin for error. And indeed, that's pretty much how it played out. We had a wait, but not an inordinate one, for both the connector bus and security (there were signs saying that passengers with "short connections" could skip to the front the line for the bus - I asked the staff member on duty if this applied to us and was told it did not). Other than that, we ran/speed-walked the whole way through both terminals, and we got to our departure gate at exactly 11:30, the posted closing time for the 11:50 flight. We took no time out to use the restroom, grab a snack, or refill our water bottles.

I don't think we were in much danger of missing the flight - there were a lot of delayed inbound flights yesterday morning and a lot of people rushing to make their connections, and I'm sure British Airways would much prefer to hold a flight for a few minutes than pay to rebook everyone. Still, it was an exhausting and fairly unpleasant experience. If you're booking a tight connection at Heathrow (or if you inadvertently end up with one due to circumstances beyond your control), this is what you can expect.

Posted by
4514 posts

The key time with a terminal change at Heathrow into 5 is to be at the security no later than 35 minutes before the flight scheduled time. Any later and you will not be allowed to pass through.

Posted by
1223 posts

Glad it worked out fine for you, but on your comment "and I'm sure British Airways would much prefer to hold a flight for a few minutes than pay to rebook everyone", don't be too sure. All airlines' Heathrow slots have a departure time, that's one reason why there is so much padding in saying when the aeroplane will leave and when it actually does. Given the huge costs of owning a Heathrow slot pair, it's quite possible they will close-up and declare ready for push-back even if they know a few passengers (especially with no luggage loaded), are still on their way to the gate. Perhaps they'll wait a few minutes, but not much longer. Rebooking a handful of passengers might be cheaper than jeopordising a slot requirement. Plus the fuel cost if they get put back in the runway queue.

Posted by
4427 posts

You were lucky. It’s cheaper to rebook you than to miss slots and waste fuel.

Posted by
2742 posts

Ugh that sounded stressful. Thanks for the “what if” report played out for real.

Posted by
127 posts

We had the same problem yesterday at Heathrow but not the same ending. Our flight from Paris was 40 min delayed due to the fog. Everyone around us knew we had a short amount of time to reach our next flight (40 min) so they let us off first. Unfortunately as soon as we hit the boarding pass scanner, we were denied because we missed the cut off. We were directed to stand in a very long line. Thankfully a gentleman had noticed me holding our 7 month old son (my husband went back to the plane for the stroller we ditched in an effort to make our flight) and asked if he could help. He took our boarding passes/passports and came back 5 minutes later with a rebooking to Baltimore. Had we waited in the line, we wouldn't have made it out until today. I'm very grateful to that man. British Airways was great the whole time. Because of being rebooked, my husband and I weren't seated together. Several people in our cabin offered to move around so that we could sit together but luckily the gentleman beside me was offered an empty window seat 2 rows back. I'll definitely never go through Heathrow again without a minimum of 3 hours!

Posted by
4520 posts

I had a 75-minute connection last month, all within Terminal 5, and made it with a few minutes to spare. Time for a bathroom stop but not to fill a bottle. It's a big complicated airport.