GoogleIt Mail IT Print IT PermaLinkChanging Planes In Heathrow - Advice Wanted
08:56:43 PM

I know our community has a quite a few very much more experienced business travlers than I in it, and I'm hoping for some sage advice. I have a trip to Paris coming up in a couple of weeks, and right now my intinerary has me doing something I've never tried before. On all past trips to Europe that I can remember, I have either flown non-stop, or I have had a change of planes at a US airport. This time, I have a change at Heathrow on the return trip. It's not just a change of planes. It is also a change of airlines.

I need to stay as late as possible in Paris on the day of my return. I don't want to stay an extra day and leave in the morning, but I need to get in at least a full morning of work. The only available non-stop flight from CDG to BOS would require me to leave for the airport at 10:00, so that's ruled out. Instead my itinerary has me taking Air France flight 1970 from CDG to LHR. It leaves CDG 16:00 Paris time, so I figure I can work until shortly after noon. That flight arrives at LHR at 16:10 London time. The thing is, I'm connecting to American Airlines flight 155, departing at 17:55. That's only 1:45 for the connection.

Is that enough time? Our corporate travel system let me make the reservation, but I've only used this system a few times and I'm not necessarily convinced that it's being suitably cautious about connection times. Given the probability of delays leaving CDG or coming into LHR in the late afternoon (on a Thursday, just before Christmas weekend no less), and given the current security situation, especially, is it enough for me? Is it enough for the luggage to make the transfer between airlines?

More generally, for a switch from Air France to American Airlines international flights, will I be arriving and departing in the same terminal -- or will I have to shuttle between terminals. I would hope that I stay within the same customs-controlled and security-controlled area throughout the process, but I don't want to assume anything. What should I expect to go through these days as an American traveler coming in from Paris and connecting to a US-bound flight at Heathrow?

Thanks in advance for your words of wisdom.

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Comments :v

1. Lance Spellman12/04/2006 09:45:10 PM


I'm hardly more experienced than you, but having recently done almost the same thing with the same time parameters, it worked out fine for me. I came in on British Airways from Amsterdam with about an hour and a half before AA back to Dallas. It was not in the same terminal (there's some kind of terminal construction going on there). It did require a trip through security, but this was INSIDE the terminals and therefore it was only thru passengers going through it which meant about 10 total people in my case. Of course, there's ANOTHER security check at the AA gate itself (sigh), but now you're only dealing with the people on your flight, most of whom have been there for 2 hours already.

The short of it...I had time to do some shopping in the terminal for those last gifts, go over to a T-Mobile hotspot connection, get email and jump on Skype, and still board with the Advantage group. I think you'll be fine.

2. Declan Lynch12/04/2006 10:24:58 PM

You are going to have to go thru the worlds worst airport and 1.45 does not sound like a lot of time.

First off, Air France and AA are not in the same partner system so transfer of baggage might not be done automatically. You'll want to tipple check that the bags will be checked thru all the way and be prepared to stand at the luggage belt in the USA for an hour only to find out that they didn't transfer it in time.

And also as they are not partners they might not even issue the onward ticket.

There are four terminals in Heathrow and they do have an airside shuttle so you don't have to go back outside and thru security again but there will be security checks and passport control to go thru. if they haven't issued the onward ticket in Paris then there is a ticket desk in the 'transfer area' in terminal 2. More queues

Traveling to the USA also means extra security checks. Liquids etc. More queues.

To be honest, stay an extra night and travel direct if you can. Avoid Heathrow for the sake of your sanity.

3. Andrew Pollack12/04/2006 11:07:21 PM

I actually LIKE Heathrow airport. I admit, terminal transfers suck there, but 2 hours should be enough time. I find there is reasonable food, entertaining things to do, expensive shopping, and lots of places to sit.

Changing terminals is not good. Baggage transfers are not good. In both cases you're relying on BAA (not the same as BA at all) and they're downright terrible.

On the other hand, at least it isn't Paris. Now THAT airport is a pestilent wart on the side of an aging whore's ass.

4. Rob McDonagh12/04/2006 11:26:47 PM

Well, I'm hardly an experienced business traveler, but I've been through LHR a few times. I think you'd survive a 1:45 transfer time. There are a boatload of hoops to jump through there, as others have pointed out, including redundant security checks and shuttles between terminals. But they all move pretty quickly. Unlike the US airports I've been in, where we've got lines that are several hundred people long, the queues there have always been at most a couple dozen people. Or at least that's the case when you're switching planes, as opposed to flying directly to/from London. I've never been there around the holidays, so I can't comment on that at all.

Do try to find out ahead of time whether they'll check your bag all the way through, though - we were unpleasantly surprised by a case where we had to retrieve our bag ourselves and then check it again for no apparent reason. I'm sure it was a case like Declan described where the airlines weren't in the right partner group. If you're going to have to collect your bag and then check it again, I'd think twice and a third time about 1:45 being enough time...

5. Nathan T. Freeman12/04/2006 11:44:06 PM

Pack important stuff in your carry-on. Don't count on the luggage transfer.

But for a human? Yeah, that's plenty of time. You'll make it.

6. Bob Balaban12/05/2006 01:01:23 AM

2 hour is certainly enough if:
a) Your incoming plane is not late
b) Your outgoing flight leaves from the same terminal as the one you arrive at from Paris. AA is Terminal 3, I'm not sure where Air France is.

If you have to change terminals, it takes up an extra 30-60 minutes, because you have to walk, get on a bus, then go through security again in Terminal 3. And in LHR, the security lines are a bit longer than they used to be, due to the Hair Gel Terror Alert (I did flight changes in LHR 4 times in November, 2 were fine, 2 were awful)

7. Wild Bill12/05/2006 03:49:16 AM

*cracks knuckles*.

Ohh. Yeah. LHR. A HUGE pain in the ass.

Terminals one, two and three are connected via walkways now - so you can theoretically run between terminals. Assume at least 15 minutes to do so, with another 10-15 minutes for the (pointless) security check in the middle.

Ironically, if you transfer to/from terminal four, you have to take a bus (about 20 minutes with up to 10 minutes wait-time), but no additional security check on entering terminal 4. But you might have a HUGE walk to the plane.

I had a late incoming flight (2 hours late!) into LHR terminal 1, and only had 25 minutes to leg it to the connections center (Jabba the hut runs!), queue for 5 minutes to see what was going (whilst slowly sweating), run downstairs to the bus, it immediately ran to terminal 4, then I had to run up the stairs (three stories) and the *length* of terminal 4 - and I made it.

The checkin guy looked at me in some horror and asked if I'd ran from *Aberdeen*.

I wouldnt recommend it obviously, and even through it was a BA-BA connection, the bag certainly didnt make it. Two days at a conference in the same clothes. Even the Uber-geeks were noticing.

Now - your flight departs at 17:55. Congratulations. Rush hour for LHR. I did all this at 3pm on a tuesday afternoon - hardly busy. If your attempting this on a Friday - then panic.

Just get a direct Air-france flight back from Paris..

(Oh. I spent six months flying through De Gaulle airport every week. And every week someone new was on strike! Lovely. And remember - at De Gaulle - is the *real* inspiration for "The Terminal". Yup. A poor guy has been sleeping at the airport for over 10 years now..)

On saying that - in Paris - visit "Le Frog and RoastBief" pub in Monmarte. Best beer in Paris.. :)

Why this sudden desire to work hard in Paris ? Do you for a second think your french colleages will notice/care ?

---* Bill

8. Paul Mooney12/05/2006 06:29:27 AM

There are varying opinions here, but I have been through Heathrow enough times.

Personally, I would not chance that short period of time. There is very little room for any delay.

9. Richard Schwartz12/05/2006 09:51:15 AM

Thanks for the advice, everyone! I've switched my flights. The connections are still a little tighter than I would really like, but this time it's all one airline (BA), so all one terminal (I think). I even saved my company some money doing it, and I got a later departure from Paris in the bargain. If I had seen this option on the screen while booking, I probably would have taken it in the first place. Not sure why it wasn't presented to me.

@Declan: I'm still going through Heathrow. Actually, I'll be going through Heathrow on the way out, too, now. But the info about Air France and American not being partnered was hugely important in my decision to change. Lots of people mentioned uncertainty about baggage, but you gave the real reason to be concerned. And the last thing I want to do is have lost luggage this time of year. Two or three days after I get back from Paris, I'll be on a domestic US flight. I can't be waiting for luggage in the interim.

@Bill: Been there, done that, got the "Is this guy going to keel over and die?" looks. (Last trip to Paris actually, at CDG. My hotel wake up call didn't come in, and I got to the airport with barely an hour and a half before the flight. Huge check-in lines and just one passport control agent on duty, and then the sloooow bus. Travel alarm is packed.) Your caution about the BA-BA luggage transfer gives pause, of course, but there are no guarantees no matter how much time you allot. I'm more willing to take my chances dealing with just one airline than with two. The direct back from Paris was out-of-the question: there's only one available flight, apparently, it leaves too late, and it was sold out of fares that are acceptable to my employer.

@Everyone: Thanks again!

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