Transatlantic travelers take note: if you fly United Airlines to Heathrow any time after June 3, you’ll be among the first to arrive at the brand-new Terminal 2 where, according to planners, you’ll be greeted by Top Chef-worthy eateries, the first-ever personalized shopping lounge with a staff to fetch merchandise for your perusal, an order-by-Twitter sushi bar, and free massages and facials. All of which should come in handy if this airport opening suffers the routine glitches that seem to mar any new terminal project.
Dubbed the “Queen’s Terminal,” the new massive structure already has an eatery in the works by chef Heston Blumenthal, as we’ve previously reported. Among the latest tenants to sign on: Gorgeous Kitchen, a restaurant conceived by four star chefs, all women and noted cookbook authors; an outpost of John Lewis, the iconic British department store chain; and the first European location for Plaza Premium, a Hong Kong based network of ‘pay-in’ lounges open to all passengers for a daily fee.
United will have the entire terminal to itself for the first two weeks. After that the rest of the Star Alliance group will gradually move in from Terminal 1, including Air Canada, ANA, Lufthansa, SAS, Singapore, and Air New Zealand. They’ll all be in the new digs by the end of 2014, sharing lounge space and offering better connections than before. Other carriers include Aer Lingus and Virgin Atlantic’s domestic offshoot, ‘Little Red.’ (A complete list of the airlines and their moving dates can be found here.)
Once T2 is fully up and running, three-quarters of all Heathrow passengers will be passing through facilities built within the past five years, says Julia Gillam, a spokeswoman for the airport. The phased-in approach is a good thing: who can forget the epic baggage meltdown that accompanied the opening of Heathrow’s Terminal 5 in 2008? And although this new building has a regal name, don’t expect Queen Elizabeth II to be on hand June 4; Heathrow managers are waiting to see how it all goes before getting the royal family involved in any official ceremony. “We are going to speak to Buckingham Palace about it,” says Gillam, “But we are focusing on working out any kinks first. We have learned our lesson; no new terminal opens without a hitch.”
The building boom is part of an effort to prevent Heathrow from losing out to other international hubs in Europe. Plans for an additional runway that would allow airlines to expand flights to London have been stalled due to strong opposition from neighbors and environmentalists. And other airports, notably Frankfurt, are eager to pick up the slack. Still, many fliers have no choice but to transit at Heathrow, and for them, a tarted-up terminal is certainly better than what they’ve been used to (the old 1950s-vintage Terminal 2 was definitely beyond its sell by-date when it was demolished in 2008).