Heathrow Airport launches the new Terminal 2 – and we joined them there as volunteers

Wednesday 19th March 2014 – as is usual for any given week, I’m up with the lark and on the road for a journey down to Heathrow Airport. Only today is different – I’ve got no clients in the car and I’m not heading down there to pick anyone up after a long flight home. Instead, along with another member of my team and heading via Ipswich to pick up Darrell and Vicki of Archway Carpets, we’re going down to the world’s busiest airport as their guests. We’d all volunteered to be part of a huge number of people that are giving their time to help Heathrow test the new Terminal 2 by acting as mock-passengers for the day.

Arriving at a nearby hotel at 08:00 and ushered into their conference facility, we were greeted by an excellent breakfast of hot ham and cheese croissants, smoked salmon bagels, fresh orange juice, tea and coffee and a great selection of fruit and granola-topped yoghurts. Well, the day had certainly started well and this was much needed after a 04:00 alarm! After having our fill, we were shown into the auditorium for a briefing for the day including the obligatory health and safety pep-talk – we were, after all, entering a building that’s very much in the final phase of construction.

Terminal 2 – a history in a nutshell

Originally opened in 1955 as Heathrow’s first ever proper terminal, it was then known as the Europa Building. Designed to handle 1.2 million passengers annually, in its final years it was operating regularly with up to 8 million. Finally declared unfit for purpose, it was demolished in 2010 along with the Queen’s Building to form the site for the new Terminal 2. As such, it will be known as “The Queen’s Terminal”.

Entering the terminal – a shiny experience!

Having been transported to the new terminal by coach, first impressions can simply be defined as “wow”! The new building and its architecture can’t be any further apart from what was there before. The striking, sweeping curves of the enormous roof, the abundance of glass walls are akin to Terminal 5 – in fact, when you’re already home to “The Best Airport Terminal in the World”, why not take your design cues from it?

When you enter Terminal 2 from the surface drop-off area, immediately in front of you is “Slipstream” – a stunning piece of modern sculpture, 230ft in length. When unveiled, it will be one of the longest permanent sculptures in Europe. I’d love to bring you a picture of it, but naturally, Heathrow are keeping it firmly under wraps until it’s officially launched! This however is their artist’s rendition…

London Heathrow Slipstream

The first thing you notice when you’ve crossed the atrium and entered the departures area is the sheer sense of space and efficiency – long banks of check-in desks stretch from left to right in front of you with the (what are now becoming a familiar sight) self-check-in pods immediately in front of them. Ok, there were only 300 or so of us in there that day, so it remains to be seen how much that sense of space remains once it is operating to capacity. But hopefully the vertical space created by the incredibly high ceiling will help to maintain this.

Off to Singapore we go…

So what was being asked of us? Simple – act as a mock passenger and go through the process of checking in. Having been issued with scripts, we duly collected our test luggage and checked-in, either via the self-check-in pods, or directly at one of the desks. This was conducted three or four times, a simple task of evaluating the process and providing feedback via one of the podiums with iPads made available to us at the end of the task.

Completing this, we were asked to make our way to the departure lounge via the usual security procedure… no being ushered straight through – the day was designed to test as many aspects of the operation there as possible, so security checks were as stringent as they would normally be.

The single best aspect of the departure lounge that we found ourselves in was the vista – an all-glass wall to the front, giving a great view of the main runway and the new Terminal 2 departure gates. No time to admire this too much though – lunch was the next order of the day. Don’t let it be said that we weren’t being well fed!

The quickest flight ever – have we landed already?

Thoughts quickly turned to the second part of the day – the arrivals procedure, in-particular, border control. If you’ve ever been at an airport when three of four planes land at once and tip their passengers out into border control at the same time, you’ll recognise the typical scrum for the border that takes place. This seemed to be what Heathrow wanted to achieve anyway!

Once again, scripts provided, we were either business-class passengers invited to take the fast-track lane, regular passport holders, or those with the new electronic chip passports. A great opportunity to “ham it up” ensued with our best RADA performances being delivered to the border control staff about where we’d come from, how long we were staying, purpose of our trip etc.

Hopefully our performances enabled the sea of data collectors that were everywhere around us to get what they wanted from the trials. After the now familiar feedback session, we were once again led from the airport terminal and coached back to the hotel once again.

More food – and a debrief of course…

As if we hadn’t already been kept nourished, yet more food and drink was laid on for us in the form of an afternoon tea – sandwiches, cakes, scones (of course, it would’ve been rude to refuse!). Assembling once more in the auditorium, there were words of Heathrow’s sincere thanks, some competition results and the invite to come again for another trial should we wish.

So what’s the verdict?

Well, it’s certainly an impressive structure and operation. You can clearly see that a lot of time and thought has gone in to designing and delivering a terminal of future – big spaces, lots of natural light and a layout that minimises the physical journey for the passenger from entering the terminal to their aircraft. Rather than design a whole-new concept, basing it on Terminal 5 was definitely the right way forward – Heathrow have clearly got a formula that works and they’re sticking to it. The figures are impressive – check out their infographic below to see the numbers that are being associated with Terminal 2 – they speak for themselves.

Heathrow Terminal 2 Infographic (1) 

Heathrow Terminal 2 Infographic (2)

All-in-all, what a great experience! Certainly a privilege to have been part of the team of volunteers invited to take part in one of the many trials that have been carried out. If you’re flying from or to Heathrow Airport after June 2014 on any of the Star Alliance airlines – then you’re in for a treat!