London 2012 Olympics: dates to avoid chaos at Heathrow airport

By John Walton, February 1 2012
London 2012 Olympics: dates to avoid chaos at Heathrow airport

Business travellers heading for London Heathrow this summer would do well to reconsider their plans, with warnings from the airport of delays and disruption due to the 2012 Olympic Games amid the "busiest day in the airport's history".

The worst days are expected to be 26 July and 13 August, at the beginning and end of the Olympics.

Heathrow is projecting an extra 43,000 passengers on 26 July and 13 August -- a 45 percent increase on normal days -- in its lengthy Olympics planning document. (4.3MB, PDF)

 An extra 53,000 bags are also expected to pass through the airport on those days, 35 percent above normal.

With hometown airlines British Airways and Virgin Atlantic official airline sponsors, expect their flights to be busiest during the Olympics.

Heathrow, which creaks under the strain of even a normal day, is likely to be an absolute zoo from July to September, but particularly on the six busiest days furing the Olympic and Paralympic season.

The days to avoid Heathrow are:

  • 16 July: Peak day for arrival of Olympic athletes 
  • 26 July: The day before the Olympic Opening Ceremony and peak day for arrival of sponsors/media 
  • 13 August: The day after the Olympic Closing Ceremony and busiest day in Heathrow’s history 
  • 22 August: Peak day for arrival of Paralympic athletes 
  • 28 August: The day before the Paralympic Opening Ceremony and peak day for arrival of sponsors/media 
  • 10 September: The day after the Paralympic Closing Ceremony

The airport says that, despite setting up a special Olympic terminal, passengers travelling through Terminal 3 -- where Qantas and British Airways flights from Australia arrive -- will see "demand in excess of capacity at peak" for surface access, security and baggage.

"During the Games period there will be insufficient capacity on carousels and floors in the baggage reclaim hall for waiting passengers," Heathrow says.

Bags will be stood up on their ends, you may be delayed getting into baggage reclaim, and the airport plans to "remove some bags from full carousels to a dedicated space nearby, before customs."

"The capacity of the departure lounges in all terminals will be stretched on the peak departure day due to the high load factor of each departing flight," Heathrow advises.

Heathrow and airline staff, plus volunteers will be on hand in all terminals to assist passengers with their onward or outward travel. Before the Games we will be giving advice to passengers on the best way to travel on the busy days.

If you're heading to Europe, consider connecting through another hub airport instead. And if you're heading to the UK, consider an airport outside London.

Emirates offers one-stop connections from Australia to Birmingham, Glasgow, Newcastle and Manchester, for instance, with Gulf rival Etihad heading to Manchester too.

Numerous European airlines offer connections to UK regional airports, which are all likely to be less hectic than Heathrow.

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.

10 Mar 2011

Total posts 526

I couldn't think of anything worse... Heathrow is one of the worst airports anyway, that barely functions at the best of time much less with the Olympics on. Good luck to anyone going!!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 Aug 2011

Total posts 41

I honestly couldn't think of a worse travel experience than going throught Heathrow Terminal Three on one of the peak travel days, it's standing room only on a quiet day, and I dare say people will have trouble walking around during these times!

I'm really surprised London isn't setting up some sort of temporary faculity (or major incomming flights diverting into other airports nearby London.)

I totally expect Heathrow to collapse during these peak times.

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