On Monday Smartraveller issued an update to Aussies travelling through Heathrow Airport, warning that recent disruptions could continue for months.
On Tuesday, I travelled through Heathrow airport on my way to join VisitBritain at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, bracing myself for the chaos that’s been reported on over the past few weeks.
In the lead-up to my flight (QF1 from Sydney on Monday afternoon) I pictured long queues snaking throughout the airport, heaving crowds, crying babies, trash cans on fire, you name it.
In reality, my experience was very different.
As we reported last week, Heathrow has implemented a departures cap of 100,000 passengers per day from 12 July to 11 September to combat long queue times, lengthy delays, misplaced baggage and last-minute cancellations as European airports struggle with record passenger numbers.
In its update, Smartraveller warned Aussie travellers that the cap has been causing delays and cancellations to international flights travelling in and out of the airport.
Though my flight was delayed by about an hour and a half, it was one of the smoother airport experiences I’ve had in a while.
The delay was actually from the Sydney end of the trip, with boarding setback due to delayed cleaning efforts, no doubt caused by the staff shortages Sydney Airport has been struggling with since travel restrictions lifted.
My flight arrived at 7:51am (originally slated to arrive at 6:35) and disembarkation took a little longer than usual as only one jetbridge operator was available to offload the A380, but this didn’t affect me as I was seated in premium economy on the upper deck and was able to disembark without a hitch.
The airport itself wasn’t particularly crowded and thanks to Heathrow’s ePassport lanes, which Aussie passport holders can use, the immigration process was swift and the line only took about 10 minutes.
I decided to skip check-in luggage, opting to go with carry-on only after hearing horror stories of luggage lost for weeks on end from four out of the five people I know who have recently returned from travelling in the UK and Europe, so this also cut my airport time significantly.
And trust me, I too was shocked by the idea of packing for two weeks of overseas travel with just carryon luggage but it was much easier than you’d think.
Perhaps I got lucky, or perhaps the “airport chaos” waxes and wanes.
Perhaps I have spoken too soon and will face those snaking queues and crying babies on my flight back to Australia.
Either way, it’s a good idea to be prepared.
Smartraveller has advised those planning to travel through Heathrow should be ready for long wait times and have contingency plans in place in case their flight is delayed or cancelled, causing a longer stint overseas than expected.
The service has also advised travellers to contact their airline to confirm flights and ensure their travel insurance covers flight cancellations.
My advice: pack light, and bring your patience. An industry with as many moving parts as travel was bound to have a few hiccups getting up and running again after such a long pause.
Delays and cancellations feel awful at the time, but isn’t the privilege of getting back out there to explore this wide world worth the trade-off?