Qatar Airways flight QR10 to Doha, business class
It's an early flight, so I've booked an airport hotel. The Holiday Inn Express is connected to the terminal by a short bridge. The trip to the hotel is in a lazy Uber from central London after some exceptionally ill-advised drinks. The trip costs £33, but it can be considerably more during the day when there's more traffic. Public transport options include the Piccadilly Line (£5.10, just under an hour) and the TFL rail service (£10.50/ 30 minutes).
Terminal 5 is the glam one at Heathrow, and Terminal 4 is its dowdy cousin. It somehow manages to feel mildly depressing – grey-tiled floor, slightly underpowered lighting, lack of natural light – without being actively ugly. There's very little flair to latch onto, barring perhaps the big white dots on the ceiling that look like upturned satellite dishes.
There are massive queues at the Etihad counters, but it's mercifully quiet at neighbouring Qatar Airways. There are six people ahead of me in the business class queue, and maybe 20 lined up in economy. Touch screen machines speed up the process for those who can be bothered to use them.
Business passengers are fast-tracked through a special lane, though a peek through the barriers shows this isn't strictly necessary, as queues are negligible on either side. This may be a different story at busier times, however.
FOOD AND DRINK
The ubiquitous British chains Pret and Caffe Nero are predictably represented here. But options elsewhere do a good job of not feeling like airport restaurants. The Commission offers wine flights, board games, cocktails and craft beers, with breakfast options including an £8.95 buttermilk chicken waffle. There's also the pub-like Prince of Wales and, if you really want to push the boat out, a caviar bar.
Most of the shopping is targeted at those perplexing people who spend a fortune on designer goods before a flight. If that's you, then you've got Harrod's, Bulgari and Gucci etc. in which to empty your wallet, alongside the more predictable duty free, newsagent and electronics shops. Souvenir shopping is probably going to take place in Glorious Britain, which dutifully slaps British flags on teddy bears and flogs scale model London buses.
The Wi-Fi is free, and there's a surprisingly good play area for kids, but if you're looking for anything to rouse your artistic passions or immerse you in a world of entertainment, you've come to the wrong place. The blandness seems pretty easy to fix – install a sculpture, some photos, maybe a little indoor garden – but nobody's bothering to do so.
ONE MORE THING
Terminal 4 is a fair distance from the other terminals. From 1,2 and 3, this isn't a problem – just hop on the underground train for free. But coming from terminal 5, you need to take a public bus with very little luggage space. It's free of charge, but takes about 20 minutes.
Anyone who can muster up enthusiasm for travelling from Heathrow Terminal 4 is quite the trouper. It's a place that puts joy on strict rationing, while providing nothing much to get antsy about either. Ultimately, flying is a mundane, transactional affair, and Terminal 4 sure as hell knows it.
OUR RATING OUT OF FIVE
David Whitley travelled as a guest of Tourism Australia.