London Heathrow Airport is one of the busiest airports in the world. With well over 66 million passengers travelling through the airport last year alone, the thought of tackling Heathrow with kids is enough to fill any parent with trepidation.
With London Heathrow our closest airport for international departures, we have had the dubious privilege of tackling its check-in queues and baggage halls a fair few times with Roo now and emerging to tell the tale. Here are some of my tips for travelling with kids through Heathrow Airport that will hopefully make other families’ experiences a bit smoother.
Getting to Heathrow Airport
- Leave plenty of travel time to get there by road. Heathrow is both one of the world’s busiest airports and located off the M4 just outside of London’s main western gateway. That means a lot of people travelling on the same bit of road! Coach companies tend to take normal congestion into account with their schedules but it’s still worth getting there in plenty of time in case there is a traffic incident and /or your kids need a loo break…
- Avoid the peak. If you are travelling to Heathrow around the morning or evening peak, driving west to Heathrow Airport on the M4 during the Friday afternoon or evening London exodus or east on the M4 on a Sunday afternoon or evening,you will need even more time to tackle the traffic.
Travelling to Heathrow Airport with kids by rail? Also avoid flights with rush-hour time check-ins. The Heathrow Express direct service from Paddington Station rarely gets overcrowded but the Heathrow Connect, which stops at local stations, can get busy towards London in the mornings and towards the Heathrow Airport during evening peak. Getting to Paddington Station by train with kids at peak times iis also both expensive and very busy.
If your journey will involve using the London Underground and you are planning to travel during peak times with kids then you have my sympathy! The underground with either kids or luggage can be stressful at the best of times – travelling with both during rush hour is liable to leave you wishing you had stayed at home!
If you are crossing London to get to Heathrow Airport with kids or are a tourist to the UK looking for more information on getting about the UK then you might find these other posts useful:
Parking at Heathrow
- Book ahead for cheaper prices. Parking at Heathrow is expensive but advance booking can reduce the pain quite a lot compared to drive-up parking prices. There are also often massive online deals on offer for upgraded parking options. Be aware parking is more expensive during main holiday getaway periods. Also look out for dedicated parking for families with kids available in most long-stay (though they have never been free when I have travelled).
- Take directions: Make sure to have a copy of directions or a map to your car park with you – Heathrow Airport is a pretty large place and despite fairly good signage, the busy approach roads make lane swapping quickly tricky when trying to concentrate over excited background babble from the kids. I know from personal experience how never-ending Heathrow ‘s roads can feel when you are running late for a flight and looking for a spot to turn around!
- Leave time for transfer. Long Stay is the cheapest parking option at Heathrow and a shuttle runs every 10-12 minutes from car park to airport terminal. Transfer times are between 5 and 15 minutes. I’ve known the wait for a shuttle bus though to feel longer than 10 minutes and I’ve also experienced having to wait for the next one because there were too many people or more often, a few people with too much luggage!
- Consider upgrading. Business parking is not just for people in suits. Transfer times are faster from business parking and the shuttles run much more frequently. Business Plus parking has a constant shuttle vehicle available for instant transfer.
- Travel by Ninky Nonk! If you are flying from Terminal 5 with kids then definitely consider business parking. Here transfers are via futuristic looking pods that soar on stilts seemingly powered by magic! The pods operate on demand – you just hop in and go. This was the highlight of the holiday for our toddler who decided the pods look just like the Ninky Nonk from In the Night Garden!
- Drop and Go. Last minute familes who are used to arriving for flights in the nick of time may want to consider valet parking. You drop your car off at the main terminal (and send someone to join the check-in queue whilst you sort out the kids,luggage and paperwork) and the car will be ready to meet you at the valet parking office by the terminal on your return. Short stay parking is also worth checking if you are booking ahead online – sometimes there are deals which make it only marginally more expensive than business parking and it means you are right next to terminal – perfect for shepherding kids!
- Free short stay parking at Terminal 4. If you have family or friends coming to wave you off or pick you up from Terminal 4, they can avoid hefty short stay car park fees by using the long-stay car park and shuttle service for free for up to two hours!
At the airport
- Life in the fast lane: Keep an eye out for family fast lanes when going through security at Heathrow Airport with kids. In peak school holiday periods the lanes can be busy but at the very least are full of other parents who ought to tut and glare less than others when you discover your kids have ‘decorated’ their passports or your pushchair won’t quite fit through the scanner!
- Airport entertainment: There are family lounges at terminals 1, 3, 4 and 5. Soft play and other entertainment is available for children from 0-9 as well as a special gaming zone for kids from 10-15 years in Terminal 3. If long waits have depleted the battery on your kids iPad or other electronic entertainment device then you can recharge them for free at the docks throughout Heathrow Airport departure areas. If you just need space for the kids and the chance to watch planes then consider hunting down an unused departure gate. Just check how long it took you to get there so you don’t miss your flight!
- Advance order formula. Baby milk is allowed through security at Heathrow Airport, as is formula powder and baby food in reasonable quantities for a flight and so long as you are of course travelling with a baby. When Roo switched to formula though I loved the advance order service from Boots at Heathrow. You just call up the store and pre-order your milk powder, nappies or other kids supplies and they put it aside for you in the airside store for your pre-flight collection. It’s brilliant if you want to guarantee they will have the right size nappy or factor suncream available.
- Nurse in peace. There are dedicated nursing areas throughout Heathrow Airport. There is one in the Terminal 3 Family Lounge and the Heathrow Airport website says other are available ‘ after security in Terminal 1, after security in Terminal 3 and before security in Terminal 4’. I never saw one when breastfeeding Roo though so don’t be ashamed to ask for directions if you are finding them hard to spot. Alternatively, if you are airside then nip down to an unused departure gate for some feeding seclusion as well as room to watch the rest of the kids. You are also perfectly within your rights to breastfeed in pretty much any public area of Heathrow.
- Carrying kids kit. Heathrow Airport allows pushchairs and car seats through security. This means in theory you don’t need to check-in your pushchair but can wheel your kids all the way to the departure gate where your pushchair will be popped on the plane separately. Do check your individual airline’s policy on this though before travel as they do differ. Also bear in mind that with unloading and folding the pushchair for the security scanner, negotiating steps and escalators (yes there are lifts but this adds on time) and navigating this busy airport means it can often be easier to take a sling for babies. We have tried both options travelling through Heathrow before and I’d probably only bother with a pushchair for a tired toddler. Extra baby bags are also permitted through security but again – bear in mind that your airline may not allow extra hand-luggage when you get to gate or may charge for it.
- Feed the kids. Most restaurants at Heathrow Airport have highchairs and kids menus. If you are keen to keep costs down though you are allowed to take through sandwiches and other picnic bits, so long as they don;t have a high liquid content and are wrapped. You can ask for free tapwater at the restaurants airside or use the water fountains available.
You can find out more about tackling Heathrow with kids from the Heathrow Airport website.