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As you can probably tell from the number of flight reviews and YouTube videos I create about flights, I love being up in the air. I feel most comfortable when I’m passing through airports and now that I live in London, my main departure airport is Heathrow. Living in Marylebone only a 10 minute walk from Paddington Station means I’m ideally situated to catch the Heathrow Express or the train. Alternatively if I’m feeling thrifty I can hop on the tube and be there in just under an hour, because unlike London’s other airports, Heathrow has a tube link. However I choose to get there, LHR is my most convenient airport to fly from.
Over the years I’ve developed a certain fondness for Heathrow and these days I particularly love it when my flight is departing from Terminal 2 – the Queen’s terminal – because it’s spotlessly clean, there are some really nice eateries and I can have a browse in Harrods.
So when Heathrow Airport invited me along for a behind-the-scenes look ahead of the second series of Britain’s Busiest Airport, I was definitely intrigued. What does happen behind the scenes while I’m relaxing at the gate? It turns out, a lot…
Meeting Pets at Heathrow Airport
I absolutely love dogs and although I don’t have one of my own, I always try to pet other peoples’ pups whenever I can! So it was a really enjoyable experience for me to see the dogs and pets that were transiting through Heathrow. Our day started at the Animal Reception Centre, where we got to meet not just dogs, but also cats, reptiles and other animals that pass through Heathrow’s Live Animal Border Inspection Post. Some are family pets, while other animals are being transported to zoos for breeding purposes.
Just two days prior to my visit they had George Clooney’s dogs pay a visit – if only I’d been there a a little sooner! While I walk past the kennels I feel like I’m in a pop-up dogs home, although I have to remind myself that these lovely doggies aren’t up for adoption.
The reception centre receives millions of live animals each year and also has some residents of its own that have been seized or live there for training purposes. Not surprisingly there are occasions where animals are found being smuggled into the country.
The Windsor Suite
Next up we hopped in a minibus to The Windsor Suite, where VIPs, celebrities and royalty arrive at Heathrow Airport. With the Heathrow VIP service, discerning customers arrive by car at a discreet entrance at Terminal 5, before being whisked to the sanctuary of their own private suite.
We were asked not to take photos in the lobby areas to guard the privacy of any VIP guests using the lounge, but I did snap some photos once we were ushered inside the Kensington Suite. We sat their imagining what it would be like to arrive at the airport and enjoy this exclusive service, tasting some of the canapés and snacks on offer from the menu. If you’re fortunate enough to have the money to afford one of these suites, members of staff will do their utmost to deal with almost any request. Want to do some shopping from the airport? Either ask your personal shopper bring the item to you, or you can have them show you the way to the shops.
Lunch at Terminal 2
After some canapés and refreshments in the windsor suite we were whisked to Terminal 2, where we had lunch in ‘Gorgeous Kitchen’, which was voted Best Airport Restaurant in the World by The Daily Meal. In all honesty this was a decent meal but not the best airport dinner I’ve ever had.
The restaurant has a nice atmosphere with views through floor-to-ceiling windows but the Express Menu took longer than expected and my main course of grilled plaice with new potatoes was lukewarm. However there are some great food places that I love visiting in Terminal 2, including Leon, YO Sushi! and The Perfectionists’ Café from award-winning chef Heston Blumenthal.
But now for the exciting bit. After relaxing over lunch we were ready to go airside and see the planes taking off and landing. If you like planespotting, you’d love this! Accompanied by Simon Newbold, Airside Operations Training Manager, we were driven around the airport, although we hit a spot of traffic and got stuck behind a plane or two. I mean, could you move please?
It was really cool to see so many planes taking off one after the other and hearing the roar of the engines as they lifted off the ground. We also spent some time trying to perfect a selfie with the planes as they came into land. If I didn’t manage to get a good photo, all I had to do was wait another minute or two for another plane…they come along like buses in a queue!
Sitting in the cockpit of a Boeing 787
Afterwards we climbed onboard a British Airways 787 Dreamliner that had just landed in Heathrow from Hyderabad and was being cleaned ready for departure. We spoke to the pilot of the plane and even snagged a rare chance to sit in the cockpit! I put on his pilot’s hat for a photo and tried not to touch any buttons. Being at the front of the aircraft meant we also had the chance to see BA’s First Class product, which looked so comfortable I did contemplate the thought of sitting down and taking a quick nap (it had been a long day after all).
Flying isn’t all glamorous though. Speaking to the cleaning staff, we learnt that a few passengers on this particular flight had soiled themselves AT THEIR SEATS (both number 1s and number 2s!) I had heard this before from cabin crew friends that this is quite a common occurrence, which still completely baffles me, but it does tend to happen on certain routes.
The control tower
Finally we visited the Air Traffic Control Tower, where we were able to see right across the whole airport and even London from above. We also learnt about how Heathrow Airport has been laid out and how the “toast rack” principle is being employed to maximise space by placing the terminal building and its satellites perpendicular to the runways.
Being such an aviation geek it was a fascinating peek inside Heathrow and when I fly from LHR to Athens in July, I’ll remember just how much actually goes on behind the scenes to keep things running smoothly.
If you want to know more about what goes on at Heathrow, the second series of Heathrow: Britain’s Busiest Airport airs at 9pm on May 30th 2016 on ITV1. You can also join in the conversation on Twitter using #BritainsBusiestAirport.
To learn more about the show visit your.heathrow.com, where you’ll also be able to enter a competition to win your very own tour of Heathrow airside!
This post was sponsored by Heathrow Airport but I am always honest and fair in reviews of my experiences.