Why Doesn’t Heathrow Terminal 2 Have A People Mover?

Filed Under: Travel

Last weekend I flew Austrian Airlines between London and Vienna. It was my first time on Austrian, and I thought they were a fun little airline with great cabin crew. It was quite a novelty to still be served a complimentary snack and drink on a European flight.

The flights departed from and arrived into London Heathrow’s Terminal 2, which is home to the 20+ Star Alliance airlines that serve Heathrow, as well as some other airlines like Icelandair and Aer Lingus. Of the four terminals in use at Heathrow, Terminal 2 is my favourite. It’s only a few years old and still feels new like Terminal 5, but never seems quite as crowded as Terminal 5, and I find it easier to navigate.

Admittedly, my previous Terminal 2 flights had all departed and arrived at the main terminal building.

As you can see from the official blueprint below, Terminal 2 consists firstly of a central Terminal 2A, where all check-in desks and security are located. This has 11 gates. There is then the satellite Terminal 2B building (to the right below), which has a further 14 gates. There are several lounges in Terminal 2 — the Lufthansa and Plaza Premium Lounges are in Terminal 2A, with the Air Canada, United and Singapore Lounges are in Terminal 2B.

Most airlines only depart from one terminal or the other. For example, Singapore Airlines always departs from 2B, so it makes sense for them to have their lounge in the same building.

Terminal 5 has a similar set-up, except that there are two satellite terminals rather than one (so Terminals 5A, 5B and 5C).

Almost all European Star Alliance airlines use narrow-body aircraft from Terminal 2, while airlines flying further to Asia, Africa and the Americas use larger wide-body aircraft, like the A380, A350 and B777.

The problem

Here’s the thing though. Almost every European airline operates from 2A, while all long-haul flights operate from 2B. So with more gates and bigger planes (with more seats) in 2B, 2B has many more passengers departing and arriving than 2A.

How do these majority of passengers get to their 2B gates? Well, while Terminal 5 (as well as many modern airports like Hong Kong) use an automated people mover to efficiently move passengers to far away buildings and gates, Heathrow forces all 2B passengers to walk the long journey under the tarmac from 2A to 2B. So if you are a Singapore Airlines A380 Suites passenger on a $20,000 ticket, you still need to schlep all this way along with the thousands of other 2B passengers.

Both of my flights last weekend used 2B, as, oddly, Austrian is about the only European airline to use 2B rather than 2A. We were surrounded by Singapore Airlines, EVA Air, ANA and Air China operating wide-bodies to Asia in 2B both times. I have to hand it to Heathrow, the plane spotting is fantastic.

The walk

Here’s the journey from landing at 2B and then walking all the way under the tarmac to the UK Border.

Once you’ve exited the plane you go up above departures…

Then you walk to the centre of the satellite terminal…

Which takes some time in itself…

Then a long escalator down past departures, below the tarmac…

Then, once underground you choose between arrivals and transfers…

Then you begin the long walk under the tarmac. The walk is so long you cannot even see the other end. The travelator on the right of course wasn’t turned on…

And then there’s another travelator and more walking…

Then another large open space…

Then up a long escalator…

Around a few more corners and then you are finally at the UK Border…

You can see from the photos the terminal was not particularly busy (we landed quite late at night), but the walk felt like it was at least half a mile and took 15+ minutes.

To be clear, there is a lot more room in the satellite terminal, and there would not be room for all these wide-bodies at the main terminal. But why don’t they make it easier for so many passengers to get to their gates?

I know Terminal 5 has an extra building (‘5C’), but it seems bizarre that they built a people-mover to move passengers from 5A to 5B back in 2008, yet six years later when building Terminal 2 they didn’t think it necessary to build something similar to move passengers from 2A to 2B?

Bottom line

I do enjoy Terminal 2, but it baffles me that there was no people mover installed in a terminal that is only a few years old, especially when the majority of passengers have to use the 5B satellite terminal and take the long walk under the tarmac, both ways.

I had to laugh when I saw that a Eurowings budget flight to Berlin was using the most convenient gate next to security in the main terminal, while a Singapore Airlines A380 was way over in the distance.

I’ll continue using Terminal 2 for European flights from 2A, but would be hesitant to use it for any flights to or from 5B again because it is a LONG walk and is not pleasant.

I imagine there has to be a good reason for this, so does anyone know what it is? Is it because Terminal 2 has ‘only’ one satellite building while Terminal 5 has two, was it a budget thing, or something else?

  1. After looking through this walk I feel perhaps the following should be true:

    “Friends don’t let friends fly *A into/out of LHR.”

  2. I assumed it was just to save money. The upside (and it’s pretty slight) is the opportunity to hit your daily step count before even leaving the terminal after a long and unhealthy flight….

  3. Hi James,
    Terminal 2 is only half finished. When / If, Heathrow is approved a third runway, the terminal will double in size. Terminal 2A will cover the footprint of where the derelict T1 is (look closely at the ceiling in landside departures around Costa Coffee and you’ll see the terminal is very much not finished).
    A second satellite terminal will also be built in order to create the “toaster rack” approach.
    At this point, a train / people mover will be installed.
    There are some suggestions that it could also be linked to T5 and T4 in a loop (T3 won’t exist anymore by this point).
    It’s worth noting that Austrian do operate flights from 2A. Whole wide body jets have to park at 2B due to space constraints, the narrow bodies are sometimes shoved over there simply because that’s where a gate was available.
    In future, taking the elevator WILL save you a couple of minutes although I know it’s still quite a walk.

  4. @ Chris – I suspected that Terminal 2 might at some stage be extended to include a 2C satellite just as Terminal 5 has a 5C satellite.

    But wouldn’t it have been cheaper and easier to install a people mover when they built 2A and 2B to future-proof it for 2C rather than trying to build transport under a fully operational tarmac?!

  5. Just don’t put “Why…?” and “…Heathrow…” in the same question and you’ll be fine. 🙂

    I wouldn’t expect any significant infrastructure changes until the runway expansion issue is settled, as Heathrow has a master plan for the Terminals 2/3 complex if the 3rd runway goes forward.

  6. I prefer walking, no waiting around for the train and the train itself can get very busy.

  7. My understanding, which may be completely wrong, was that *eventually* they will do away with Terminal 3 and just add more satellite terminals between T5C and T2A (continuing the “toast rack” system). You will check in at T5A (Heathrow West) or an expanded T2A (Heathrow East, which will expand northwards into the space created by the demolition of T1) and then travel to one of a number of satellite terminals. The T5 peoplemover will then be expanded to serve all of the satellite terminals and T2.

    So maybe they are just waiting for the existing T5 peoplemover system to be expanded to cover T2.

    Of course I may have just dreamt all that. I’ve dreamed of weirder things before.

  8. Heathrow is already one of the most expensive airports in the world to fly out of both for passengers and for airlines. Terminal 2 cost over $4B USD and if you wanted to add in a people mover that’s $500M-$1B easy. The walk is long but not that bad and if it takes you 15min to walk a quarter of a mile, you’re doing something wrong. It’s closer to a 6-7min walk but I guess it feels longer the same way Security lines always feel twice as long. Also, not sure about the moving walkways but when I was there last month they’re on motion sensors and if they haven’t been used will appear inoperable until someone starts walking on them and they’ll start right up.

  9. Actually if you are flyers suites on SQ they do arrange for buggy for you. I was on SQ from SIN-IAD via LHR return and they had a buggy for me and escorted me from T3 to T2 as my LHR-IAD was on VA

  10. @ Steve – it’s my understanding T3 will eventually go as well but I think any long-term infrastructure changes are entirely dependent on the third runway actually being built and I would be amazed if that is completed within the next 10 years.

    Some sites claim T3 will be closing as early as next year but I doubt Qantas and Cathay Pacific would have opened brand new lounges there recently if they believe this to be true.

  11. Tokyo Narita T2 used to have people movers between the main and the satellite but scrapped them in exchange for travelators a few years ago. Dubai T1 since the beginning never had one despite ALL gates being in satellite, and users have to endure a long walk under the tarmac to/from the landside. Nothing very special to LHR I guess…

  12. @Mike Not quite fair. Other than the long walk I actually enjoy T2B, because you’re spoilt for choice with the*A lounge selection. UA was hands down the best Heathrow lounge (and still one of the best now that T3 has the revamped CX lounge), but if you want leave and quiet you also have AC and SQ, all next door to each other.

  13. I know some people are planning all these trips when they retire but I’m glad I’ve taken them when I’m younger because there is no guarantee you’ll even be around for retirement and also because traveling often requires a ton of walking, luggage carrying and stair climbing (you can’t count on elevators at many train stations).

    I”m someone who doesn’t mind walking but as you age sometimes it makes things difficult.

    Our stress level was maxed out a couple of years ago when our flight arriving into LHR from Europe was delayed and we had to rush over to the other terminals (not sure of the names but we had to go from BA to the terminal with AA departing flights to Chicago). We get off the shuttle bus and entered only to get a message from our travel agent saying due to flight delays they rebooked us on BA first class but that leaves from the previous terminal.

    Well, apparently you can’t go out the door that we entered and instead you have to clear customs, go out the main door and catch a different shuttle bus to get back to the other terminal. We had issues with the customs agent who wanted to know where our luggage was and didn’t understand our situation. Finally another guy who worked there simply said “Just let them through”. We eventually made it to the gate with about 10-15 minutes to spare and were exhausted and thankful we were in first class and could finally relax.

    As nice as travel can be, it can involve a lot of stress when things go wrong.

  14. @ChampagneSocialist: Fair point on the lounges. That said (although I haven’t been to the UA LHR lounge) I strongly suspect the CX F lounge in T3 wins the LHR best lounge award.

  15. The arrivals and transfers walkways both go to the same place. Don’t know why that is but it is shorter to walk through the transfers walkway even if you are ending at Heathrow.

  16. As stated already, SQ F and Suites pax get driven in a buggy and don’t have to do the walk.

    I fly out of LHR at least once a week… If departing from 2A, T2 is a FAR nicer experience than T5 at LHR.. no contest.

    The walk to 2B is far though if you have to do it.

  17. The worst part is when your flight leaves from 2A, but you want to sip champagne in 2B UA/SQ lounges – so you do the walk back and forth on the same trip 🙂

  18. LHR and Berlin Brandenburg are the clearest examples that stupid is stupid in first world and the third world.

  19. Spending time and energy in this article, why didn’t you just reach out to the airport operator and report back what they say?

  20. The things that airports do rarely make sense. Another good example is how there is no smoking inside most terminals. I’m not even a smoker and hate this. All it does is make people exit security on layovers to go outside. And guess what, those same folks have to go back through security again adding to already long lines.

  21. @ James madrid T1 is longer walk and not traveletor, no conveyor or train or nothing, just trying to avoid bystanders.

  22. if you want a truly high speed people mover, look no further than YYZ T-1 … they have a rather unique one that embarkation is slow but accelerates much faster during the cruise portion, kinda like how high speed quad chairlifts work.

  23. In T5 there’s a little known underground walkway connecting the satellites. I think it was planned as a service tunnel and later opened to public use. Honestly, I prefer walking this tunnel over the people mover. It’s always quiet there and in some cases where you want to connect between T5B and T5C it may even be faster.

  24. Hi James,

    You missed on on the pleasure of connecting between two long haul flights out of T2. You arrive at T2B, you walk through the tunnel to T2A, clear security, then walk through the tunnel back to T2B. While I usually don’t mind the walk, I could imagine it being stressful with a tight connection or for people who have mobility issues that do not yet warrant a wheel chair.


  25. @Jasper I walked in the T5B-T5C tunnel last week. I was a bit strange being the only person in a long and deserted tunnel– very different from the rest of the usually crowded T5 experience.

  26. I’ve been through there a couple of times and although I don’t know the exact distance, I’d be surprised if it were more than 500 yards which, in airport terms, is probably considered a long distance for some passengers to navigate. I agree they should have a better system and that this distance would seem like a marathon if one has a short connection time. Under ideal circumstances however, a nice brisk walk after a long flight is refreshing IMO.

  27. While we’re at it, why does LAX not have a proper skytrain instead of making passengers run around it’s underground hamster tunnels?

  28. @Rick, I agree that that is the worst part of the setup. I’ve had to do the T2B-T2B connections before, and the walk to T2A just to go through connections was annoying, to say the least. On one trip, the inbound was delayed, and while I made it onto my connecting flight with 20 minutes to spare, we had to wait for dozens of other passengers who were on the same itinerary as me. I think we ended up leaving an hour late. Of course, if T2B had its own FCC, it would’ve been much quicker and more convenient…

    @James, when I started reading the post, I thought, “wait, T2 already has people movers,” before I realized that I was thinking of the (often out of service) travelators… :-p It’s also a shame that they don’t have travelators in the “sterile” departures area going from T2B to T2A, which would make lounge hopping so much easier… 🙂

  29. There is actually a tunnel already built for the people mover. So it is future proofed and will not be disruptive to build.

  30. @Mike: You are probably right! My sentence was badly constructed but what I intended to mean was that the revamped LHR CX J lounge is even better than UA J. Unfortunately access to F lounges is currently beyond my reach..

  31. @DaninMCI for LHR there is smoking area in T3 but not many are aware so you need not go curbside but you need to take the terminal transfer bus if u are in a different terminal. Pretty silly and annoying

  32. I always walk through the tunnel in T5 – often quicker than waiting for a transit and good exercise, as well as being spookily quiet down there. A nice contrast to the din above.

    As for why they haven’t got the transit in T2, the tunnel for it is already there, the same as there is an unused and not fitted out train terminal space under T5. It will therefore probably happen with future expansion, perhaps when an additional satellite is added, but as with everything LHR (well, and UK really), it takes time and usually a lot of red tape.

  33. Google is your friend. A Track Transit System is in the masterplan for T2 – http://www.newsteelconstruction.com/wp/terminal-checks-in-with-steel/

    And there is indeed space for a Track Transit System (and the specification for that space caused the contractor a 4 month overrun – source: https://www.balfourbeatty.com/media/29306/speakers_notes_07_dec_11.pdf)

    However, HAL acknowledge that it won’t be in place until at least 2020 (source: https://www.heathrow.com/file_source/Company/Static/PDF/Partnersandsuppliers/Decision-Document-Terminal-2_Property-Rents.pdf)

    No doubt they’re waiting for green light on a third runway before ploughing additional capex into what’s already a pretty good building – the walking distances are bad, but no worse than if you’re parked in one of the far extremities of T3 or T4. And, on the plus side, you’re easily 10 minutes closer to Central London by public transport or road than other terminals, so it’s still faster than landing at T5

  34. I personally won’t trust Heathrow’ time estimates to the word.
    T3 WAS slated to be demolished in 2019 but this has now been delayed to at least well into the 2020s.
    T1 closed 3 years ago and it’s internal stuff’s just been auctioned off and Heathrow is still taking its sweet time to take it down ( to be fair T1 and T2 do share a baggage system and T2B was completed before 2A and was used as a arms length extension to T1).
    If we are being frank The toast rack wont be completed until at least 2030s, and even that is subject to tons of variables (Brexit, the Gov’t stance on the third runway, traffic growth etc.)

  35. Isn’t Lufthansa the foreign airline with the highest number of slots at LHR (actually third overall after BA & VS) or has that changed? Not surprising if Eurowings gets a premium dock position.

    Sorry to gloat but last weekend i just marvelled at how easy, quick & efficient it was to access the satellite terminal 2 at MUC with that underground train/people’s mover.
    Heathrow T2 could have considered sth similar since it is a rather new terminal.

  36. @Sam If you bothered your arse to read the comments properly then you’d have seen (several times) that LHR have considered something similar for T2 – and have implemented it ready for further expansion. But let’s not bother with reading, or even researching online yourself and just carry on with your kneejerk reaction.

  37. a somewhat related hint: in that pic that shows arrivals versus transfers? The two end up in the same hallway. Those who choose “arrivals” just have to walk farther — so head for transfers and you’ll cut 30 steps off your journey and end up short-cutting those who have gone the long way around

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