Airport review, London Heathrow Terminal 3: Heathrow's Terminal 3 isn't fancy, but it's fast


London Heathrow Terminal 3


Qantas flight QF2 to Sydney, economy class


The quickest way to get to Heathrow from central London is the Heathrow Express train service, which operates every 15 minutes from London Paddington and takes 15 minutes at a cost of £5.50 ($10.46) if booked online in advance. The longer, marginally cheaper option is to use the Piccadilly Line, which takes about an hour and costs £5.30 during peak, £3.30 off-peak.

If you're being dropped off by car, be aware that the airport recently introduced a £5 drop-off charge to "invest in congestion-reducing Surface Access projects" (whatever that means). It uses number plate recognition and can only be paid online, via an automated telephone service or using autopay. Free drop-offs are still permitted at the Long Stay terminal car parks, but you'll need to catch a free bus transfer to the terminal.


An additional pre-check-in document audit of my International COVID-19 Vaccination Certificate, pre-departure COVID-19 test and Australia Travel Declaration adds a couple of minutes to the process but the overall experience is still unexpectedly painless with minimal queueing. Arriving three hours beforehand helps, but also the flight isn't full and there aren't any other Qantas departures this morning.


Health measures are reassuringly front and centre with protective screens at check-in and most retail stores, plus floor markers to encourage social distancing. Face masks are mandatory inside the terminal and there are plenty of hand sanitiser stations dotted about.

There are two walk-through ExpressTest COVID-19 testing centres before security plus a drive-through facility at Terminal 4. Each location offers a differing range of tests and most need to be pre-booked so check the website in advance (


Perhaps the only silver lining of travelling during these challenging times is that airports are operating at a fraction of their pre-COVID capacity. As a result, I'm through immigration and security in minutes. My boarding pass scans successfully at the electronic gate (to the surprise of the nearby attendant: "Qantas ones don't normally work") and then it's the familiar pocket-emptying, liquids and laptop dance at security.


Almost all the terminal's cafes and restaurants are open and there's a decent enough range, from casual options such as sandwich-specialist Pret A Manger (sandwiches from £2.50) and family-friendly Japanese chain Wagamama (mains from around £10), to fancier outfits like the Caviar House Oyster Bar, where you can splurge £215 on 30 grams of beluga caviar. Most venues also offer a 15-minute menu if you're pressed for time.



Alongside the usual ubiquitous luxury brands (Cartier, Fendi, Gucci etc), there's a good selection of home-grown offerings including Ted Baker, Paul Smith and Jo Malone. There's also a Harrods outpost and a Glorious Britain store where you can pick up Blighty-themed gifts, such as a Paddington Bear and a Union Jack-emblazoned neck pillow.

One advantage of being on the direct QF2 flight to Darwin is that I'm able to shop in the terminal's sprawling duty free store (, where prices are considerably cheaper than in Sydney. I buy two litres of Bombay Sapphire gin for £29 ($55), compared to $75 if I'd bought  them on arrival in Australia. Well worth the embarrassment of clinking on and off the plane.


For those fortunate enough to be travelling in Qantas business class or to have Qantas Club membership, the airline's lounge in Terminal 3 is a tranquil two-level haven of wood, brass and stone. The downstairs dining room with waiter service is closed during my visit but the spacious upstairs lounge has a striking circular marble bar and a buffet of Rockpool-inspired goodies, including Neil Perry's scrumptious bircher muesli. I can highly recommend the signature Tanqueray gin and tonic with Aperol ice cubes, which – in the name of research – I sample at 8am.

Passengers can also pre-book access to the No1 Lounge ( for £34, which includes a full bar, hot and cold food and a mini-cinema. However, in these quieter travel times, the public departure lounge is fine with plenty of seating, free Wi-Fi and a refreshing abundance of power sockets. Unfortunately, the free Family Lounge with soft play area is still closed due to national restrictions.


It's hard to believe that in 2018, Heathrow processed a record-breaking 80.1 million passengers, 19.5 million of whom passed through Terminal 3. While we all want travel to return to pre-COVID levels, let's hope Heathrow moves some flights to the newer, larger-capacity terminals for a more comfortable experience all round.


A functional rather than flamboyant offering, with all the necessities but none of the pizazz of neighbouring terminals 2 and 5. All that being said, it's still thrilling to be back in an international airport.


★★★ ½

Rob McFarland paid for an economy ticket and was provided with lounge access by Qantas. (

See also: British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Heathrow airport ditch mask rules

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