Airport review: Heathrow Terminal 5 London, England

THE FLIGHT

BA249 to Rio De Janeiro, business class

THE ARRIVAL

Getting to Heathrow from central London is either expensive or a drudge. The Piccadilly line tube from St Pancras station costs £5.10 (or £3.10 off-peak), taking about an hour. Meanwhile, it's £10.50 for the 28-minute TFL Rail train from Paddington Station or a scandalous £22 for the 15-minute Heathrow Express. Pre-booked minicabs can cost as little as £30, but expect to pay at least £50 for an hour's taxi journey.

The worst thing about Heathrow, though, is that it is shockingly badly connected to the rest of the country. To get there, you pretty much need to go into central London, then through it.

THE LOOK

Terminal 5, for the dedicated use of British Airways, opened to much fanfare in 2008. Architect Richard Rodgers pulled off a 21st-century internationalist look, with a single undulating roof covering Britain's largest free-standing building. Floor-to-ceiling glass panes make it bright and sunny, with good runway views. But it could be anywhere.

CHECK-IN

A bank of touchscreens awaits on entry, designed for printing boarding passes before taking a few steps to the bag drop. There are also special family and special assistance check-in counters – a nice touch – and queues are about as low as you'll see in an airport. We've got just one faffy couple in front of us. Previous experience says the procedure is efficient even on busy days.

SECURITY

Business passengers head through the fast track queue and, in our case, the whole process from emptying pockets to repacking bags takes less than 10 minutes. Economy passengers are waiting in a queue for 10 to 15 minutes before unburdening into the trays.

FOOD AND DRINK

There is a good variety from which to choose. Itsu is a decent bet for cheap Asian belly-fillers such as chicken udon noodles for £7.49. Giraffe's schtick is world cuisine, with options such as sriracha eggs and jerk chicken flatbread. Gordon Ramsay's Plane Food was the big deal when it opened – and it does something different, with small plate options and a two-courses-in-25-minutes deal for £24.

RETAIL THERAPY

There's the strange combination of prosaic British high street brands – Dixon's electronics, Boot's chemist, WH Smith's newsagent – duty free and international designer gear. It feels a little too blandly globalised, although Glorious Britain will sell you tat such as teddy bears in Beefeater outfits and the Harry Potter Shop milks JK Rowling's boy wizard for all it can get.

PASSING TIME

There are a few art installations to take a nosey at, and free Wi-Fi, but there's little above and beyond standard airport fare. If you want a massage in a chair, then Be Relax will give you 15 minutes for £30.

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ONE MORE THING

It's when bad weather strikes that Heathrow descends into chaos. The airport operates at more-or-less full capacity, and there's not much room for manoeuvre, making it highly susceptible to delays.

THE VERDICT

Most of the problems with Terminal 5 – transport and delays – are problems with Heathrow as a whole. The terminal itself makes the airport experience about as hassle free as can realistically be expected, but it lacks a sense of place. It is glassy internationalism that has decided personality is not required.

OUR RATING OUT OF FIVE

4

See also: The world's best airport just got a lot better

See also: Airport review: Manchester Terminal 2

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