Heathrow’s Terminal 2 and Flybe to Edinburgh (A Cranky Travelogue)

Trip Reports

I had made it to London, and that meant I had only one flight left that day, my first on the recently re-capitalized Flybe. But first, I had to make it through the gauntlet that is Heathrow, and I had to do it with no sleep. This was my first visit to Terminal 2, also known as The Queen’s Terminal, so it was unfamiliar territory. While it was striking, it appears to have been designed to make you walk as much as humanly possible.

Terminal 2 has a main terminal as well as a satellite — 2B — that lies to the east. I believe that the main terminal will be much bigger once they clean up the old Terminal 1 site, but for now, it seems most flights use the B gates. And Air Canada had parked us at the far end.

Once I got off the airplane, I had to go up to a suspended walkway over the concourse and then down underground past a monstrous Thai A380.

After that, we were herded across to the main terminal, and then I lost all track of where I was. We may have done a loop-de-loop at some point, I can’t be sure. Exhausted and not thinking straight, this is when I made a fatal error.

Had I thought this through, I would have just gone through the line that would have dumped me out into London as a local arrival. Then I could have gone to the arrivals lounge and showered while I waited for my next flight about 2.5 hours away. Instead, I followed the purple flight connections signs since I was, after all, making a connection. That turned out poorly.

First I made it through a painfully-slow security line. Even with Fast Track it probably took me 15 to 20 minutes. They made me take my liquids out and my laptop, as elsewhere in the UK, but then they analyzed every bag going through the x-ray in excruciating detail. It seemed like half of the bags were being pulled aside for further examination after going through the x-ray. The process was downright glacial.

Once on the other side, I went to the passport line for UK/Ireland connections which was very short. I had a mobile boarding pass for my next flight, but it wouldn’t scan in the UK’s verification system. The woman working the desk was brand new and had no idea what to do. She asked if I had any other boarding pass — which of course I did not — so she just kept calling people over the radio asking for help. Eventually someone told her how to override it and she gave me a piece of paper that she said I’d need to give to someone down the line. (Nobody every collected it.) In the meantime, the line behind me had swelled with tired and angry travelers.

After walking through a duty free shop, because, well, London, I found myself in the main terminal, also known as the A gates. I thought to myself, “hey, I bet Air Canada will let me use the lounge since I just got off their flight in business.” The problem is that the Air Canada lounge is a good 15+ minute walk back to the B gates on the satellite. With time to kill, I did it, and I was promptly shot down.

The agent said I could buy lounge access from the United lounge nearby if I wanted, so I trudged over there. It was $59, but that agent was very nice and did the math with me. Because of how far I’d have to walk to get back to my gate in the main terminal, I wouldn’t have all that much time in the lounge. I passed, admitted defeat, and dragged my bags back to the A gates.

At this point, I looked at all the food options and settled on liquid food. I went to the London Pride pub, had an ESB and some chips, and Skyped with the family. The gate posted while I was there, and about 40 minutes before departure I wandered down to the Flybe bus gate area down below.

Boarding was a complete mess. I don’t understand why this happens on a domestic flight, but they required checking passports at the gate. Then for some people, they had to take photos. I couldn’t figure out who got that treatment and why, but I’m guessing it was for non-residents of the UK… and there were a lot of them.

As if that wasn’t creating enough of a slowdown, they kept flagging bags as possibly being too big to carry on the airplane. Were they too big? That agent could bother to help. Everyone had to stand in line to talk to a different agent who would use the sizer to see. This was terribly inefficient. After the agent made me stand in line, the second agent didn’t even measure. She just looked and said that would be fine. It was all so very British.

But oh, that wasn’t the end. This was a bus gate, so we had to board a couple of buses and then get driven out to the airplane on the far east side of Terminal 2, past the satellite. Because of my bag issue, I was on the second bus and we were actually cutting it rather close to departure time. When we pulled up, I saw a big, purple Flybe airplane waiting for us. I squeezed off the crowded bus and got onboard.

April 20, 2019
Flybe 2106 Lv London/Heathrow 230p Arr Edinburgh 405p
London/Heathrow (LHR): Gate A1, Runway 9R, Depart 1m Late
Edinburgh (EDI): Gate 34, Runway 24, Arrive 1m Late
G-PRPA, Bombardier Dash 8-Q400, Purple Body colors, 95% Full
Seat 3A, Coach
Flight Time 1h3m

It took some elbow grease but my bag did indeed fit in the overhead, as I knew it would. (This is why I like duffel bags.) I took my seat and stared at the ad for Avis and Budget in front of me through glassy, tired eyes.

The flight was mostly full, and it took a bit for everyone to get settled. The two flight attendants seemed quite young, but they were eager and friendly. Kudos to them. I can’t imagine that’s easy bouncing around the UK in turboprops at an airline that nearly just failed.

I was surprised after all the chaos that we left only 1 minute late. When we did push back, it was a long slog to the western end of the runways, and there was quite the line, a surprise for Heathrow which always seems to keep airplanes at the gate. At least it provided some great spotting opportunities for everything from the BOAC 747 to a SWISS A220. I love spotting at Heathrow.

Once airborne just abeam Terminal 3, we bounced our way up to 10,000 feet. At one point, there was enough of a drop to elicit an audible yelp from somewhere in the back. I’m not sure if it was wake-related or just bumpy at lower altitude, but it smoothed out quickly. After that, it’s all a blur. I do know that the flight attendants came through selling drinks and snacks, but I didn’t partake.

I had hoped to get some great views out the window since it was sunny the whole way, but the haze obscured that somewhat. More importantly, the windows were filthy, so it wasn’t great for spotting. About 15 minutes in, I lost consciousness. You could say I fell asleep, but it had been far too long since I last slept, so I fell hard. The next thing I remember was the beginning of our descent where the change in pitch from the engines woke me up. We went out over the Firth of Forth and then came back to the west for our landing. This was the best shot I could get out of the window.

Once we landed, the pilots came on and said we were going to do an engine run-up before we parked because the engine sounded louder than it should have on the way in. I’m glad they waited to tell us that until after we landed. The airplane didn’t fly again that day, so I imagine they may have found something to fix.

Glad to be done flying for the day, I hopped on the tram and went into town. I was tired, but I wasn’t about to just go sleep away my one night in Edinburgh.

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20 comments on “Heathrow’s Terminal 2 and Flybe to Edinburgh (A Cranky Travelogue)

    1. Inquiring – To get to Edinburgh or all the way to Islay? Either way, yes.
      I landed at Heathrow around noon and was at my hotel by about 5 or 5:30.
      The drive from Heathrow looks to be about 7 hours or a train would be longer. For Islay, I could in theory have driven up to Glasgow, stayed overnight, and then taken the ferry in the morning. But that wouldn’t have saved me much time – maybe I’d have gotten there an hour earlier.

      1. Heathrow to Edinburgh by train is 5.5-6 hours, and Glasgow is about the same. For example, 09:42 Heathrow Express, get to Kings Cross for an 11:00 train (which is ample, including a short Tube or taxi transfer from Paddington); arrive in Edinburgh at 15:19. Similar routings are available every 30 minutes.

        Of course, taking the train would save you the wait at security but not some of the long walk in T2 to get to Immigration and then waiting for the Immigration queue. So I’d guess the flight saved you a good 1-1.5 hours over the train; not much! I found that flying Westjet into Gatwick and taking the train is the most efficient routing for an upcoming trip to Newcastle from western Canada.

      2. It’s 5hr20 from Heathrow to Edinburgh by train including 40 minutes to get from Paddington to Kings Cross. So faster than driving but not as fast as the plane if you are at the airport.

        From the centre of town it’s a wash and for the highlands the sleeper is better, as I presume you found on the return.

  1. The photos at the gate were for domestic departures. Because Heathrow has a common departure lounge for transit and domestic departures, they have to make sure that people catching a domestic flight have not swapped ID airside with a transit passenger. So you get a photo taken at check in/security and then that’s matched with the photo taken at the gate…
    (I think. Hopefully it’s something like this…)

    1. Yes, that’s it. My recollection is that originating domestic passengers get their photo taken at security and checked at the gate to verify that they were already in the UK.

    2. Simon – Ah, thanks. I seem to recall they had a separate area for UK departures in T1, didn’t they? So did they not need to do that before?

      1. Certainly in T5 domestic and international departures are all combined together. You get treated differently before security and at the gate depending on whether you’re 1) transit international, 2) transit domestic, 3) originating international, or 4) originating domestic, but all wind up in the same departures area. Like all things about LHR in general and T5 in particular, it’s rather a mess. But I’ve never been to T2.

      2. Correct, although I think towards the end of T1 they were mixed too so it was needed. As Alex points out, it had always been this way in T5. The reason is to allow more people to get to the shops, because, well, London. This is also why you get asked for your boarding pass in T5 and T2 shops, because if you’re domestic you have to pay duty. (Some shops charge the same price regardless, and pocket the duty saving themselves on international departures.)

  2. So I’ve never connected international to domestic in the UK, at what point did you go through customs/immigration? And did you have to clear Canadian customs as well before connecting to your YVR-LHR flight?

    Forgive me if you mentioned it already, I’m just genuinely curious…

    1. Matthew – It’s all in the write up, but basically, I did not have to enter Canada. I did have to go to a kiosk to note I was a transit passenger and it spit something out for me. I’m sure I wouldn’t have been allowed in Canada unless I had gone through immigration. In the UK, after arrival I went through customs and immigration before being allowed back into the terminal for my connection.

      1. Most major Canadian airports like YVR have three segregated areas: domestic departures, transborder (US) departures, and other international departures. International (including transborder) arrivals only have to go through customs to get to arrivals or the domestic departures area. Generally fairly efficient (much better for international-to-international transit than the US setup), but a bit annoying sometimes in that facilities including lounges have to be in triplicate and therefore the ones you can access sometimes aren’t as nice as they might be if there were only one departures area like in the US and the UK.

        But smaller airports, like my home airport of Kelowna (BC), have just one area for all three kinds of departures.

  3. Something about those prop jobs, the NVH from them always puts me to sleep even if I’m not sleepy. You never stood a chance. I almost wish I could fly cross-country red-eye flights on a Dash-8, I have more trouble sleeping all the way through on jets.

    1. Completely agree. There’s something about the low humming sound of a Dash 8 that’s conducive to sleep. I’d be curious to see how many lie flat seats they could cram into one, though.

  4. Cranky,

    I gather that this was your first flight over Firth of Forth? LOL

    Sorry, I couldn’t resist as it made me laugh out loud when you wrote that. I’m enjoying the whole right up though.

  5. Your experience is nearly identical to my connection at Heathrow last summer … a mess with a lot of walking and confusion. But agree it’s a cool place for avgeeks to plane-spot. There’s something unique and cool about the bus-boarding when you get to board a BA 777 from ground level and see the scope of a Qantas A380 from the terra firma of the tarmac.

  6. Totally agree about getting your steps in at T2. I like it as a terminal which is just as well as I fly in and out of it ten times or so a year. There’s also a few redundant corners that you can cut, Brett – only saves you 10 seconds each time, but for some reason the ‘designers’ (I use the term loosely) seem to think it’s ok to send connecting passengers on a slightly different route to get to the same place.

    BTW United lounge in T2 is tops – great showers, food is decent, and the beer is always cold, which is exactly how I like my beer at 6.35am. I’m very impressed you had a proper meal at Heathrow – next time, as I said before, I’ll take you for a decent pint in a really old boozer.

  7. When I flew AUS-LHR-EDI (T5), I did customs, got my photo taken, and got a security scan, in that order when coming in from the States. I had my photo taken again prior to boarding for the intra-UK flight. It was a bit of a maze.

    On the return trip, no photos were explicitly taken. Passports were checked as part of the boarding process, but that’s all that happened at LHR.

  8. LHR operates on the notion of (a) cheapness, (b) making you walk a lot to stretch those legs after a longhaul flight, and (c) desire to make life miserable for connecting passengers.

    They were too cheap to build a train to connect T2 remote to main terminal. The endless piers and corridors make it confusing and you haven’t even experienced the T3 inbound and outbound mixing through the same doors. All connecting pax are collected into central areas for passport control and security, then sent back to long walks in the piers, or bused around to terminals that are not close to each other.

    They do their best to dissuade connecting travellers. AMS anyone?

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