Exclusive Behind the Scenes Tour of Heathrow: Britain’s Busiest Airport

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.

heathrow-vip-loungeThere’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!

heathrow-vip-lounge-foodPrices 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.

heathrow-vip-lounge-menuFrom 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.

gorgeous-kitchen-heathrow-menuAfter 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.

  • What an interesting read Suze! It’s something that I have never even thought about before but I guess when you think about it so much must go on behind the scenes! Have a lovely weekend. Gemma x

    • I’m usually in a rush when passing through the airport so it was great to take the time to see behind the scenes. Happy Bank Holiday

  • I was sad to miss this! I’m an airport geek…I’m actually writing this comment while in Hong Kong airport 😉

  • What a fab visit! I *love* all things airports and aviation (spot the Air Force brat!).

    • It was so interesting seeing all the work that goes on to make things run seamlessly!

  • I’d love to see behind the scenes of Heathrow! Feel like I spend half my life there!! 🙂

    • I’m sure you’d have loved it Chloe, you’ve certainly been travelling a lot recently 😉

      • I know! Back to Heathrow tomorrow in fact… might as well live there!

  • What a fantastic experience to get behind the scenes and see the airport operating from a totally different perspective. I’d love to see Concorde up close like that… I think she’s a she!

    • I agree, Concorde should be a she! Would have loved to go on board too but the Dreamliner was pretty impressive

  • Paola

    Wow, incredible experience… lucky you!!!!!
    Kisses, Paola.


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    • It was such a unique experience, one of those days that you remember for a long time

  • Caliope Couture

    Wow, that must have been fascinating! Good to know they have an Animal Reception Centre with proper temp housing. I always feel so sorry for all of these animals!

    Christina ♥ https://caliope-couture.com

    • Some of them did seem a bit forlorn, but they only stay in there for a few hours before travelling on

  • Frank Thomae

    I think that is so great. I’ve always been a plane/airport geek and when I was younger I had created a huge model airport in the 2nd bedroom with runways, flashing lights, and planes (I’ve always been a collector of Schabak and Herpa planes). My first wife made me take it down which I guess I should have taken as a sign.
    Anyway, the behind-the-scenes stuff in airports something that’s always fascinated me. Unfortunately I’m not in the UK but if I was I’d sign up for the tour in a second.
    Frank (bbqboy)

    • I think you should recreate your model airport, Frank! Perhaps you can go on an airport tour in your latest port of call?

      • Frank Thomae

        I’ve never heard of one anywhere. I’ve got a few hours in Munich airport next week, I should look to see if they have anything.

  • What a fun and unique experience and who knew about the animal reception centre – it makes sense of course but I’d never really wondered what happens to the animals when they are transported overseas. I love the look of the Windsor suite and would happily enjoy a glass or two of champagne in there!

    • It’s amazing to think that they even transport horses! The Windsor Suite was very relaxing

  • What a terrific post, Suze! It is not often that you get a behind the scenes tour of an airport like this. For me, Heathrow is a horrible airport because it’s always crowded, but apparently there is a much nicer side of it if you can afford 2,750 pounds for an hour of pampering. As for smuggling animals into the country, I wonder how this people imagine they can do it without being caught?

    • It’s incredible about those animal smugglers isn’t it, I hope that none succeed. Heathrow has gone up in my estimation since visiting, as they don’t tend to bus people to their planes unlike in some other UK airports

  • Interesting to see behind the scenes at this airport. What happens to those animals brought in illegally? I have not had the best experiences at Heathrow in the past year, once my luggage being sent to the wrong country and once it just being delayed for 2 days when I have transited through here. But we are going to be spending 9 hours in Heathrow next week so are hoping for a good experience in the United Lounge there! ~ Jessica

    • I hope that you do have a good experience in the United Lounge – at any rate the terminals are much better than they used to be. Some of the animals brought in illegally get rehomed, other exotic ones stay there for staff training for a while

  • Being a fairly frequent flyer, I would have loved this this behind the scenes tour. It must have been super interesting and you will probably never see Heathrow through the same eyes. Lucky you!

    • That’s exactly right, Anouk – I now have much more awareness of what goes on behind the scenes

  • I love watching documentaries about airports and anything that requires high level engineering (problem of an engineer ha ha). I remember watching one about Heathrow and how much hard work it was to get it to this level. I am sure it was a fun experience, especially being inside cockpit 🙂

    Ela BellaWorld

    • I’m sure you’d have had a unique insight into it from an engineer’s perspective, Ela

  • How amazing to get so much insight into Heathrow airport! Would love to see the Concord up close and enjoy a little breakfast at Windsor suite ♡

  • What a day indeed!

  • Lucy

    The first pic is superb. I love airports (not flying I’m hasent to add) they have an entire life of their own. What an opportunity to see Concorde Lucy x

  • I seriously enjoyed everything about this post, I read it a while ago and have been meaning to comment on this actually as it’s one that keeps springing to mind.

    So interesting to see behind the scenes and what happens at Heathrow, what a great experience it must have been!

    The first photograph is fantastic!!

    Laura xo