London Heathrow: How to change terminals in 30 minutes

Does 2 hours for changing from one terminal to another at London’s busy Heathrow airport (IATA: LHR) sound like a lot of time? Nope. Would it make you nervous? Likely. Should it? Yes! Well – hang on a minute – let’s look bit closer at this as airports do improve their operations every now and then. Let me show you that ‘bad child Heathrow’ can actually work like clock work, even with a missed approach on your incoming flight. Here’s my experience report on how to change terminals at London Heathrow:

It’s Monday evening and I’m on my British Airways flight from Zurich (IATA: ZRH) to London Heathrow. I know that I have just under 2 hours to change from my arriving terminal 5 to the departure terminal 3 of my next flight. I am a little nervous about that, especially as the airport tells me it takes 90 minutes for the journey. And my experience tells me anything can go wrong at Heathrow at any time. And it did on our approach to runway 27 right. Shortly before touchdown the pilot had to declare a missed approach and take the plane up again and back into the landing sequence. Whilst this manoeuvre is something every pilot needs to be familiar with (apparently, it’s fairly common at Heathrow due to the short landing intervals), it definitely adds to the flight time as the plane has to get back to the queue of the landing aircrafts.

Luckily in my case the episode did only add 10 minutes to our flight time and we parked at 8pm local time at the gate. From there it was a short walk to the “Flight Connections” point (obviously this depends where your plane is parked at terminal 5 but it shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes from anypoint within the main terminal and 20 minutes from the satellite terminal). Since my next flight leaves from another terminal, I went downstairs to the place where the buses depart. There I just missed the bus and cursed. The staff assured me that buses run every 5 to 10 minutes though, so with that I had time for a pit stop at the close-by toilets which, by the way, aren’t as busy as the ones upstairs. Anyway, back to my bus. The next bus then indeed arrived 5 minutes later and the journey over to terminal 3 took exactly 8 minutes. You can spend that time either looking around at the airport’s operation or read the useful leaflets about the other terminals that are provided.

26 minutes after my plane parked at terminal 5 I’m already at terminal 3 with only security to go through. Only? At Heathrow that can actually be the bulk part of your time spent at the airport. But not here as this security is dedicated to those people connecting from other terminals and with that not as busy. 4 minutes later, I’m through that as well. The only last obstacles between me and my onward flight now are the tempting shops and cafes of terminal 3.

Whilst I surely had a good run, I’d actually be surprised if it took you more than 45 minutes from the time you disembark your plane to the inside of terminal 3. It goes to show Heathrow can actually be an efficient connecting airport! For details on connecting to and from other terminals, see the airport’s online guide.

  • Hi Jamie,

    No, you won’t have to clear customs. Head straight for the “connections” signs leading you to your terminal.

    Safe tavels!

    tom.

  • Jamie

    thanks for the speedy reply 🙂

  • Anastasia

    Hi Tom.
    Thank you for sharing your experience. I have a question, I will arrive in 3rd terminal and leave from 5th, 90 minutes will be enough to change terminals?
    I don’t need to pick-up my laguage, and I will registrate to final destination.

    Thank you so much for your help

  • Yes, that’s fine – see my blog post where I did this (in the reverse order though) in 30 minutes.

  • Meengla Yip

    Hi, I too have a question: I will be flying from Charlotte, NC to Dubai in late December (around 18 December) via US Air to Emirate. I strongly suspect US Air will not check my baggage all the way to Dubai; this will be a multi airline ticket. My flight will land in Hethrow on Terminal 1 and then I will probably have to collect the checked luggage and go to Terminal 3 to catch the Emirates flight; the transit time is 2 hours 5 minutes. Is that enough? From what I understand it is a short walk between the terminals. Thanks!

  • Hi there, sometimes multi airline trips are still on the same ticket if booked together by your travel agent. Check that, if that’s the case the luggage can be checked through to your final destination. If not, then you will have to re-check them at London. From T1 to T3 it’s a short walk (maybe 10 minutes) but the issue is more the time you loose from waiting for the luggage to arrive and re-checking it in. You also need to check at what time check in closes for your onward flight, depending on the airline this could be a strict 60 minutes prior to departure which will make it very tight for you. Otherwise, make sure you sit somewhere towards the front of the first flight so that you can get out quickly and hopefully make your way through passport check swiftly (again this one depends on your passport – EU passports are quicker than non-EU). Good luck and let us know how you went!

    tom/LateDeparture

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  • Elderly Traveller

    Hi Tom, thanks for the info getting from terminal 5 to terminal 3 at LHR if I follow what you did I should manage this in in two hours , it seems to be similar LAX only they will check if you are running short for departure time

  • happyexplorer87

    Hi Tom, my wife and I will land in Heathrow T1 on an international flight at 8am. We need to catch a flight to Rome at T5 at 1030am. Any suggestions we can use to make it for the flight? What is the fastest way we can do it for eg. where to catch the Heathrow Express at T1 and where do we go to check in at T5? Thanks.

  • Kevin

    Hello Tom,
    I would be arriving on AA at terminal 3 at 11:15 and departing on BA from terminal 5 at 12:50. Do you think this is cutting it too close?

  • amelia

    Hello Tom. I’m a little nervous as this monday 02 Dec I arrive on a BA flight into Terminal 5 from Edinburgh due in at 6.15pm. I booked all my flights separately so will need to collect one bag and then get over to Terminal 3 to get a long haul international flight with Cathay Pacific that departs at 8.40pm. I’ve tried doing the time calulations but even if everything runs smoothly I’m wondering if I will have enough time? To change my flight from Edinburgh at this late stage will cost me a lot. I’m not familiar with Heathrow so not sure if I can realistically make my connections with any time to spare. Your experience and thoughts would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

  • Hi Amelia, you should be fine as your incoming flight is a domestic flight, so you don’t have to clear passports. Make sure you check in online to your Cathay flight though before you leave Edinburgh. Since Cathay and BA are in the same alliance, you might be able to check your luggage in already in Edinburgh. Definitely try it! Even if not, it’s tight, but it should be fine. Let me know how you go so that other travellers can benefit from your experience!

  • Amelia

    Thanks Tom. I have ended up paying a hefty fee to change to an earlier flight as I can’t check in online with Cathay Pacific before leaving Edinburgh. My longhaul ticket is actually with Air NZ so I have to check in at Terminal 3 Cathay Pacific desk which will add more time on. BA can’t check my bags on right the way through to NZ because of the 3 different carriers involved on separate tickets. I begrudge paying the fee change BUT I have bought myself more time and peace of mind even if I now have added another 5 hours onto my 30 hour travel journey. Missing my long haul flight would be very costly so wasn’t prepared to gamble on this occasion.

    Thanks for your help. I have learnt a lot from this experience.

  • Hi Amelia, well given these circumstances, it was a wise decision to change your flight. After all piece of mind is a valuable thing! Enjoy your trip!

  • CURLYMUM75

    HI MY FAMILY OF 5 ARRIVE FROM DUBLIN TO LHR AT 11.10 IN TERMINAL 1….WE HAVE AN INTERNATIONAL FLIGHT TO CATCH FROM TERMINAL3…….LEAVING AT 1.00PM……DOES THIS LEAVE US ENOUGH TIME

  • Aida

    Tom I am flying to Geneva from Los Angeles, CA to Geneva. from L.A. I catch the Newzeland connecting to British airways with a stop over at heathrow. I am terrified of heathrow Airport due to my past experience there. how far are these two terminals from each other, and would they require me to claim the luggage in London for this connection?

  • Hi Aida, check out this guide for how to transfer from terminal 2 (Air New Zealand) to terminal 5 (British Airways) at Heathrow: http://www.heathrowairport.com/heathrow-airport-guide/flight-connections/terminal-2-international-connecting-to-terminal-5-international
    The checkin staff at LA should be able to check your luggage through to Geneva providing you’ve booked it on the same ticket. Allow for 90 minutes transfer time. In my opinion it’s often much quicker than that, but with the busy holiday period that’s the safe margin. If it was me, I’d relax as there’s always another flight to Genava. But I’m sure you’ll make it. Safe travels.

  • jeevs

    Hi Tom,
    I would be arriving to LHR terminal 5 from chennai, India on BA036 and connecting to Charlotte(CLT) from LHR terminal 3 on BA2353 but operated by US airways.
    Do I need a transit visa in uk for a same day connection as they mentioned about a terminal change

  • Hi Jeevs,

    If your bags are checked through to Charlotte, then you won’t need a UK visa as you will remain airside if you only change the terminal. Simply follow the transit directions. It’s straight forward and won’t take much time normally.

    Safe travels!

  • rahul

    Hi Tom,
    I am transiting through Heathrow from terminal 4 to terminal 2. Would it be possible to smoke before I enter terminal 2 security? can I smoke while waiting for the flight connection bus? Thank you very much.

  • RRay

    Hi Tom. On Sunday 17th May i fly in from Helsinki( FinAir) to T3 flight lands at 0905am and departs from T5( BA) to Dusseldorf at 1045am. Same ticket. Just transit. I will have shengen visa and not the Uk visa. I dont think i need to go through immigration. Is this a doable connection?

  • Hi there, yes, you’ll be fine and you won’t have to go through passport checks. Just follow the connection signs to T5. Have a good flight.

  • huimin Liu

    Hi tom, thank you for your insightful article! Really helped me.
    However would like to consult you on this. I have a flight landing at london heathrow terminal 5 at 4.55am and another flight leaving terminal 2 at 6am. Is this too tight? Should i book/change to another plane ticket? I have to re-collect my baggages and do the transfer myself since I did not buy the trips on the same ticket 🙁

  • That’s a very tight connection and I’d be seriously worried about missing the connecting flight. Terminals 5 and 2 aren’t exactly close either. You could make it but not with collecting the bags. Remember, some airlines can check you through even if it’s not on the same ticket (e.g. if you fly with BA from Manchester to LHR, then onwards with Iberia they should be able to connect the tickets as it’s part of the same company/group). Otherwise, change to another, later flight to be safe. Terminal 2 has been revamped and I’m sure you’ll have a good time there even if you have to wait a little bit for your next flight…

  • huimin Liu

    Thanks for your reply tom! Alright i will consider changing flights!
    However, as you said that I may make it without baggage, so it is actually safe if I opt to only have handcarry for my flight? 🙂

  • If your incoming plane lands on time and your outgoing is only a short haul flight (long haul ones close their boarding sooner), and no strikes or other things come in the way you should make it. Let me know how you go either way!

  • witte46

    I am no regular flyer. So Heathrow as big as it is terifies me . We wil travell from Brussels to Fresno (USA). We arrive from Brussels in LOndon at terminal 5 and depart for Los Angeles at terminal 5 (lucky). Coming back we arrive from Phoenix on terminal 3 and part for Brussels on terminal 5. We booked our flights as one flight Brussels-Fresno and back.. Do we have to collect our bagage to go from one flight to the other (both british airways) in Londen ? We know that this is the case in all american airports.

  • No need to collect your bags at LHR, your
    connection is guaranteed by British Airways and the bags will be checked through to your final destination. Enjoy your trip!

  • Tash95

    Hello Tom,
    I have a flight on Saturday arriving at terminal 5 at 8:10 am and a connecting flight from terminal 3 leaving at 9:45 am. It’s all booked on one ticket so no need to go through baggage reclaim or anything. Do you think this is enough time or do I run the risk of missing my flight?
    Thanks

  • Hi Tash,

    This one should be fine – you won’t have a lot of time but it should work providing there are no delays with the incoming aircraft. Let the crew of the first flight know of your connection so that they can alert ground staff at LHR.

    Have a good trip & let us know how you went!

  • Pali

    Hi, I am landing at Heathrow T5 from India and have to take connecting flight from T3 to Aberdeen in 3 hours on same single ticket. Pls guide me to reach my connecting flight in time. Where will the immigration and security check will be done. At T5 or at T3 ?

  • Hi Pali, I’m not 100% sure in your case but logic would say that you first follow the flight connections signs which will get you to T3. Immigration and security check would then take place there. 3 hours are certainly enough time to make this connection. Let us know how you go!

  • Also, Pali, you might want to check this page from LHR to get more details on your exact connection: http://www.heathrow.com/flight-connections

  • Deb Madonna

    Hi there, I think I’ve made a very expensive mistake. I’m flying from Philadelphia to Heathrow in August. I arrive on Finnair at Terminal 3 at 9:00AM and need to grab a flight to Naples on Lufthansa from Terminal 2 at 10:55. Because these are separate tickets, my baggage won’t be checked through. Using Heathrow’s Flight Connection Plan, the time needed is 75 minutes. This is based on not needing to claim baggage and go through the check-in process again, though. In my scenario, what are the steps (do I need to go through customs?) and how much time should I need? I’ve looked into rebooking on an earlier flight out of Philly, and with the fees/penalties and difference in fare, this mistake could cost over $1000…sure wish I’d known about your blog before I booked. Thanks so much for any advice you can offer.

  • kaavya polisetti

    Hi Tom,
    I am travelling from hyd -elp with British airways.i reach LHR from hyd at 1:10 pm at terminal 5.my next flight to PHX from LHR is at 2:40pm from terminal 3.Do you think i can make the connection?

  • Hi Deb, apologies for the late response. Since your flights aren’t until August I hope this comment is still useful to you. In my opinion it will be a very tight operation but you could make it if everything runs smoothly. Terminals 2 and 3 are close-by, so that transit isn’t a problem. In the worst case that you miss the flight to Naples, the airline most likely will put you on the next flight. So, check their flight schedules if and when the next one goes. If you wanted to change a flight, you’d want to change the inner Europe flight as that’s probably cheaper. But honestly, I wouldn’t bother and bank on the airline putting you on the next available flight if you miss it. Let us know how you go!

  • Hi Kaavya, if both flights are through BA then that’s easily doable. Even if not and you have the connecting flight booked on the same ticket (meaning you can check you luggage right through to PHX), you should make the connection easily. Simply follow the connections sign in Terminal 5 as outlined in my post.

  • SHANTI JOHARI

    Hi Tom. I am arriving from Milan into Terminal 5 at 835am and next flight is from Terminal 2 at 1125am and my bags cannot be checked through. Do you think there is enough time or it is stretching it? Thanks!

  • Hi Shanti, Terminal 5’s baggage system is fairly quick, so all going well you should get off the plain and have your bags quickly. Assuming your next flight is a short-haul flight also, you’d have to check-in about 1 hour before that flight, so 10.25. You should have enough time for changing terminals and getting onto that flight. Good luck and let us know how you went!

  • Julia Grimm

    Question. Arriving LHR 13:35P one day (Terminal 2); flying out LHR the next morning (T2). Staying at Thisle Hotel Terminal 5. How to get from T2 to T5 to catch the pod to Thistle? Can I take the bus to T5 even though I am not connecting? If not the bus, then what option, and what cost? Thanks.

  • Hi Julia, we’re not really focusing on off-airport connections, but the hotel’s website suggests the following:

    Terminal 1, 2, 3: Hoppa Bus H4
    Terminal 5: Hoppa Bus H54 or H51
    Terminal 4: Take the Heathrow Connect train (free of charge) to Terminal, 1,2,3 or 5 and then catch the Hoppa Bus as above. Direct Hoppa bus H51 to & from hotel and it takes approx. 20 minutes journey time.
    Terminal 5: Follow the signs to ‘local buses’ and use bus 423 (stand 6). The hotel stop is called Heathrow Park Thistle Hotel and takes approimately 10 mins. Or alternatively go by POD, with the journey time to Thistle London Heathrow Terminal 5 taking just 5 minutes.

    Terminals 123 and 5 are connected by London Underground, so if you want to take the POD you’d have to take you’d have to take the underground to T5. You can’t take the ‘connections’ route since you’d have to collect luggage and don’t have a connecting flight.

  • Catarina

    Hello Tom,

    I will arrive in terminal 4 at 17h45 and I have a diferent flight (diferent tickets) from TAP at 19h30 in terminal 2. I have luggage but I asked a friend to collect it as I don’t need it for the second flight, which means I don’t need to collect my bag. Can I use flight connections or do I need to go through passaport check?

    Thank tou

  • Tom

    Hi Catrina, is your friend flying with you? If not, then there is no way for your friend to collect the bags without you going through passport check. If they are, then you can certainly use flight connections. Does that make sense? tom.

  • Daria Rumiantseva

    Hi Tom! I land in Heathrow Terminal 5b and I have only 2 hours to catch my next flight to Ireland. Is this time enough or I should change my booking?

  • Hi Daria, in order to answer your question better, I need some more information. Where do you land from? Will your luggage be checked through to Ireland? If checked through 2 hours are definitely fine.