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Heathrow Upgrades

August 20, 2007 By: Jennifer Merritt Travel Agent

Virgin Atlantic and British Airways get set to unveil new terminals at Heathrow Travel Agent asks which one wins

Come next year, it will be battle of the terminals at London's Heathrow Airport. Terminal 3, home to Virgin Atlantic, is currently undergoing a revamp, while the brand-new Terminal 5, home to British Airways, is being constructed. Although both carriers are touting things like new lounges and railway stations, the amenity customers are most looking forward to is a faster and more efficient check-in process.  Rendering of the "Upper-Class Drive-Thru Check-In" at Virgin Atlantic's renovated Terminal 3

In fact, Virgin Atlantic, which will be the first to debut
its terminal later this year, said that fast, efficient and stress-free check-in
are the three key factors for passengers, according to internal research.

The most prominent feature of T3, which has been designed by
Foster + Partners in conjunction with Virgin Atlantic, is its "Upper-Class
Drive-Thru Check-In." This allows for first and business class passengers
to be chauffeured up a curved ramp directly to the terminal, where they will be
greeted by a Virgin Atlantic host who will complete all the formalities of
check-in, including document checks and some security questions, while the
passenger is still in the car. From there, passengers proceed to security,
through to the Clubhouse and then onto the gate. For economy passengers, the
airline is providing online and kiosk check-in.

Rendering of  British Airways' outdoor concourse in Terminal 5, currently under construction construction

What to Expect

"We estimate that it will take the majority of our
passengers under 15 minutes to check in and get through to the departure lounge
and even less time for our upper class passengers to get to the
Clubhouse," said Steve Ridgeway, chief executive for Virgin Atlantic.
"[This is] in contrast to most of British Airways' long-haul passengers,
who will have a longer journey through the vast T5."

And though that might be a knock against the competition, it
is true; T5 promises to be huge, as the entire site—also consisting of 60
aircraft stands, two satellite buildings and a parking garage—is roughly the
size of Hyde Park. Designed by the Richard
Rogers Partnership, T5 will feature six new lounge areas, retail shops like
Harrods, Paul Smith and Tiffany & Co., as well as its own railway station
with six platforms: two for Heathrow Express, two for the London Underground's
Piccadilly Line and two built as a future link to AirTrack.

British Airways also says that T5's baggage system is the
biggest, single-terminal baggage handling system in Europe.
Transfers and late bags will be assigned a priority routing through a separate
high-speed baggage system and be delivered directly to the aircraft stand of
the departing flight.

In the hopes of easing aircraft operations, British Airways
has exclusive use of T5 aircraft parking stands. The carrier points out that
the terminal also is close to T3, which—in addition to Virgin Atlantic—houses
BA's Oneworld alliance partners Qantas,
Finnair airlines. T5 makes its official debut next March, though British
Airways will begin operating there as a trial run in September.

Both Virgin Atlantic and British Airways offer direct
service between London Heathrow and major American cities such as Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami and New York, so it seems
the battle of the terminal buildings will be won based on passenger preference.
And even then, only the frequent flier miles may know for sure.

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