Secrets for surviving Heathrow

Many of us can warm to the sentiments of writer Dennis Potter when he said: ‘I did not fully understand the dread term “terminal illness” until I saw Heathrow for myself.’ Rather like going to the dentist or the headmaster’s office, even the briefest spell in the UK’s busiest airport (and the world’s third-busiest international airport after Hartsfield- Jackson Atlanta and Chicago O’Hare), with over 64 million passengers a year, can be disheartening.

But the well-travelled know how to make the best of an unbearable situation.

Turning compliant toleration into an exhilarating shopping or epicurean experience, or ascertaining where to escape for a moment’s solitude are tips to make a visit to Heathrow a happy event. So here’s the Country Life survivor’s guide to Heathrow, guaranteed to put the bon into bon voyage.

● The best lounge, according to travel writer Susan d’Arcy, is Virgin’s, with facials, massages, manicures, pedicures, wet shaves and haircuts, using Cowshed and Bumble and bumble products for Upper Class passengers. British Airways has teamed up with Elemis, to offer spa treatments (try the f lying feet hot-stone massage) in three lounges in the new Terminal 5.

● Susan d’Arcy also suggests checking out Tiffany & Co at Terminal 5— ‘Tiffany doesn’t sell duty free anywhere else in the world,’ she reveals.

● Wear slip-on shoes, to make going through security faster—and a lot more dignified.

● Buy the best hand luggage you can find (the intrepid can do so at the airport), festooned with smart Smythson luggage labels.

● Buy travel-sized products (Jo Malone has a good range, as does Boots) and carry them in a proper see-through cosmetics bag (so much classier than a Ziploc bag).

● Avoid lengthy immigration queues by registering for the Iris Recognition Immigration System.

● Arrive early and relax with a cappuccino before facing Customs and security.

● Arrive late (an hour before the f light is still comfortable) and security staff will whisk you through, so you don’t miss your plane.

● Go on the Heathrow Airport website ( for the cheapest valet parking—it beats having to park somewhere in Hounslow and catch a bus back to the Terminal. Also, look out for short-term parking deals that cost about £20 more than long term— but without the long walk.

● Local taxi companies offer good deals—it costs only £20 from Holland Park or £32 from Wandsworth. Or, take the Heathrow Express—it’s clean and efficient, although one might baulk at the ticket prices, which notch up to almost £1 a minute (£14.50 one way or £23.50

first class).

● Don’t rely on Heathrow’s bookshops, unless you’re partial to holiday bestsellers.

Robert Bailey, from Robert Bailey Property, gets John Sandoe Books, just off the King’s Road, to provide a box of books monthly, linked to his interests (they deliver to the country, too).

● Mr Bailey also heads for one of the great Heathrow refuges —the caviar bar —for ‘a fine bottle of Chablis, and a plate of crevettes and smoked salmon.’

● Check-in online the day before you fly, to avoid the principal queues.

● Buy a Priority Pass (about £260 a year) to get out of the main terminus and enjoy

a free cup of coffee and Wi-Fi access in the airline lounges, says James Price from

Knight Frank International.

● Bored by the familiar anxiety at reclaim baggage carousels (you will be if you’ve

experienced teething issues at T5)? Employ someone else to look after your luggage.

Companies such as will collect your bags and deliver them direct to your destination.