It was with some trepidation when I noticed on my ticket that I had to spend 11 hours in Heathrow’s Terminal 5 before catching my connecting flight. The terminal has received so much bad press, that it’s about overdue to write about how really good that terminal is. My conclusion: once you have negotiated Terminal 5, you don’t want to have to deal with any other terminal in Heathrow airport again.
I arrived at about 11pm and had to spend the night. A Sofitel can be reached via a walkway from the terminal, but as it is quite expensive, I decided to “slum” it and live a new experience. My first impression of the terminal was that it’s huge, but airy, very clean and quite negotiable. One cafe on the departure level is open until midnight and then again from 4am. But, they allow you to sit in their comfortable armchairs and sofas all night which is better than sitting in the general waiting area, where you can’t lift the armrest and hence cannot stretch out to take a nap.

A cafe on the arrivals level though is open all night and they have equally soft and deep armchairs and corner sofas to spend some more hours in comfort. The time passed rapidly, interrupted by the odd coffee and snack and a few interesting conversations with fellow “overnighters” waiting for an early morning flight to Nigeria.

Checking in is also made very easy. Provided you don’t have any bags which need to be checked (and few of us have these days), there is no need for a long wait in line at the counters. Many machines are available to get your boarding pass (if you haven’t got one previously over the internet) and several other counters are there where the stuff do nothing else but check your passport and visa. If you, like me, have some problems to work the machines, plenty of very friendly BA stuff are around to give a helping hand. I must say that rarely have I sailed though check-in, passport control and security with less hassle and stress than in Terminal 5.

Once on the other side the experience gets even better. If you, like me, are a woman travelling alone, I always find it difficult to negotiate self-service outlets. How do you manage watching your bag, carrying your handbag, deal with the money and then juggle your loaded tray with the coffee slopping out, only to find, that the last free table you had in your eye, has been taken whilst you were dealing with your food.
I much prefer sit-down restaurants and was delighted to spot one. A half moon bar with comfy stools and waiters who serve you what you want. The place in question is a sea food restaurant and I had: 6 oysters, a sea food platter, a mixed salad, 2 coffees and a mineral water, all consumed at leasure and the entire bill for that treat was no more than GBP20.00. You really can’t complain, given the fact that self-service outlets, apart from being uncomfortable, aren’t cheap at all in any airport.

Stores, shops and boutiques abound, and it’s a pleasure to stroll from one to the other. The aisles are very ample, so there is none of the shoving and collisions with other travelers pushing their luggage as there is in many other airports. Everything is of course brand new and sparkling clean. 2 big HWM Smith bookstores provide a great choice of reading material and the Duty Frees let you sample perfumes etc at your heart’s content.

All you have to do is watch the announcement for your gate and allow ample time to catch the shuttle and get there. One of my best airport experiences ever. You can also go on a visual tour of the terminal and its faciltites going to: