London’s airports face one of busiest days on record

AFP Photo / Marwan Naamani
London airports are facing a massive exodus of about 200,000 people as athletes, supporters, and tourists are set to leave the Olympic city on Monday, making it one of the busiest departure days on record.

Heathrow officials are predicting about 116,000 passengers traveling through their terminals on Monday and Gatwick airport is expecting up to 70,000 people to pass through their gates each day for the next week.

Heathrow’s media center stated in its Monday press-release that “the record for departing passengers [at Heathrow] is 123,000 set on 29 July 2011”, which brings Monday’s expected total not far behind.

Heathrow made special accommodation for departing athletes by creating a special Games Terminal, which begins operations on Monday. It will welcome 8,000 athletes, each thought to be carrying between three and five oversized bags, over the next three days. On top of that, it is said the special terminal will give the athletes a secret London-themed send-off.

The temporary terminal is part of Heathrow’s 20-million-pound ($31.2 million) investment in handling London 2012 passengers. It has 31 check-in desks and security lanes, and is the size of three Olympic swimming pools. After three days of operation the terminal will be decommissioned and the site returned to its original use as a staff car park.

Also, around 6,000 athletes were allowed to check their bags through at the Olympic Village on Sunday night in order to reduce lines at the airport.

As for regular spectators, warnings of traffic have been issued and they have been asked to plan ahead and give themselves enough time to allow for any delays. Transport for London is suggesting tourists to check its “Get Ahead of the Games” website to gather tips to avoid extra traffic and prepare for the crowds ahead.

Colin Matthews, chief executive of operator BAA Ltd – operator of Heathrow and Stansted Airports – sounded confident when he said that “Olympic departures present a fresh challenge with new facilities like the Games Terminal being used for the first time.”

“We have been preparing for seven years to deliver a farewell of which the whole country can be proud,” he added.

Regular passengers are being advised to check-in the normal terminal three-hours before scheduled departure for long-haul flights and two-hours before for European flights.

But at the end of the day, only Monday’s reality check of the massive exodus of visitors in their thousands will tell how successful London’s new airport facilities are in handling the overwhelming crowd rushing to get home.