I've received a fair number of questions from colleagues regarding the logistics of traveling through Heathrow after the recent terrorist events, so I thought I would post quickly regarding our experiences (captured in brief in previous posts) in the hope that it will help others.
I'll break it down to the discrete stages of: 1) Physical Access to Heathrow, 2) Ticketing, 3) Carry on restrictions, 4) Security
With regards to (1), the airport WAS (on 17/8) very accessible to our hired car at 0545. There was much less congestion being dropped off than at our little Iowa airport here, and considerably less than I am accustomed to in Washington D.C., Raleigh, San Jose, San Francisco and the like. Due to the terror events, we anticipated a long-delay in ticketing and security, so we planned extra time and were too early in the day to use our return tickets on the Heathrow Express, although I am told that the H.E. was a big pain as they had closed the lifts to the departures level altogether and people were asked to go out to the parking elevators to get to departure level.
Ticketing was made much easier due to e-tickets/electronic checkin. We dropped off our bags at the British Airways bag-drop, tussled a little with the counter clerk with regards to the size of our carry-on bags, received plastic bags for our daughters to carry with our excess items, and were on our way. Total time elapsed, fifteen minutes.
Carry-on restrictions. I am told that the size restriction is still in effect at Heathrow, and that the ban on liquids and gels is being considered as a permanent fixture. I could be cynical and attribute this to the fact that BAA makes 50% of all profits from concessions at Heathrow, and this has been a goldmine for them, however lets give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that it is for our safety.
Our own personal experience was simplified by our shipping many items ahead on our trip from London to the states, so as to have fewer contraband items in our carry-on bags. As it was, we were asked to drink from our children's 'sippy cups' at security, but not pour the liquids out. To my personal credit, an impromptu Academy-award- winning-performance of drinking my daughter's chocolate milk was enough to misdirect the security agents away from my seriously oversized carry-on backpack.
Security was prompt and efficient, with the exception of asking even my two very young daughters to remove their shoes and sweaters. We were through security in an additional fifteen minutes. By 0630, we were sitting in the terminal drinking excellent hot chocolates and eating croissants and pointing out aircraft to my youngest child.
My prior blog post was entitled 'Much ado about nothing', in reference to the amount of preparation we did for the airport, which went surprisingly well in retrospect.
One final note, days later when we were transiting through Heathrow from Oslo, the security was slightly stricter, with all passengers being frisked and all liquids being tasted or tossed-out. Once again, this wasn't as strict as it could have been, and my wife was waved on without a pat-down when my daughter began crying.
All in all, an inconvenience but not as bad as it was trying to get back into the U.S. after 9/11 from Mexico.