Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes at Heathrow? Britain’s busiest airport serves over 180 destinations, handling over 73 million passengers a year and there’s a lot more to it than passengers normally get to see. If you enjoyed the first series of Britain’s Busiest Airport, you’ll be pleased to know that it’s returning to our screens again from 30 May on ITV. Featuring airside operations, new aircraft, security and cycling paramedics, it promises to be a unique insight.
As a taster of the new series, I was lucky to get a peek at some of Heathrow’s most fascinating areas with an exclusive airside tour. We kicked off with a look around the Animal Reception Centre. It”s a bit like Noah”s Ark with 200 million creatures passing through every year. There are exotic reptiles that people have tried to smuggle into the country like this female bearded dragon.
She was very warm to the touch and as good as gold!
There are also many domestic pets that have been legitimately brought in, some of which are in quarantine.
Next we headed to the Windsor Suite which is Heathrow”s VIP terminal. Passengers using this service will be picked up at their home or hotel by limo. There are seventy steps or less from their door to the aircraft and no need to carry your bags, as these will be transported for you. Inside the terminal there are a series of comfortable private lounges.
There’s a range of menu options and they can cater for any dietary requirements. The best part has to be the security screening as there’s absolutely no queue!
Prices for the VIP service start at £2,750 plus VAT for up to 3 persons and they recommend that you allow at least an hour inside the suite, to make the most of the experience. A personal shopper can accompany you into the terminal area if you have any last minute shopping needs.
From here we made our way to award winning restaurant The Gorgeous Kitchen for lunch. It’s been voted the best airport restaurant in the world and has the feel of a business class lounge with stylish decor.
We enjoyed a 2 course express lunch, which took a lot longer to arrive than the promised 25 minutes despite being fairly empty on the day of our visit. I’ve actually been before for brunch and found it much better then so I guess we caught them on an off-day. My main course was a grilled plaice fillet with new potato, vine cherry tomato and olive salad, coriander creme fraiche. The fish definitely needed more seasoning but the salad was tasty.
After lunch, we met up with Simon, Heathrow’s Airside Operations Training Manager. Extremely knowledgeable, he’s also a natural born raconteur who loves to share stories about the history of Heathrow and its present day workings. There are over 400 companies licensed to operate 8,500 authorised vehicles and every night, over 50 companies carry out development and repair work.
Simon took us on an exhilarating airside driving tour – as you can see, we were incredibly close to some of the aircraft!
One of the most exciting moments for me was seeing Concorde up close. It would be lovely if it/he/she (how do you refer to Concorde?!) could be in a museum or in pride of place at the entrance to a new terminal but for now this iconic aircraft is very much behind the scenes.
There are a few on display around the world though, including at Brooklands Museum in Surrey, and the Museum of Flight in East Lothian, Scotland.
After getting up close to Concorde we went on board a stationary British Airways Dreamliner 787-9. It was such a treat to be able to go into the cockpit, sit in the pilot’s seat and meet the pilot. He finds it the best plane that he’s ever piloted and it’s certainly state of the art and spacious inside.
Our final unique experience was a trip to Heathrow’s very own Air Transport Control Tower.
Whilst we didn’t meet the traffic controllers which would have been way too distracting, we were on the level just below them and got an incredible 360 degree bird’s eye view of the airport and surrounding area.
You can see all the way to Windsor on a clear day.
We’d come to the end of our visit but what a fascinating insight it was! If you’d like to experience a similar tour, make sure to follow @HeathrowAirport on Twitter and the hashtag #britainsbusiestairport and check their website, as they’ll be running a competition where a lucky viewer can win one of these money can’t buy visits. Good luck! The first episode of Britain’s Busiest Airport airs on 30 May at 9 pm, with two more episodes to enjoy on 6 and 13 June.