Heathrow is waving off athletes in style on one of the most challenging and high-profile days in its history following the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games.
The first athletes have started to arrive at a specially constructed Games Terminal which has been dressed like a London park to give a memorable farewell.
The terminal includes plants, park benches, replica gas lights, trees and model stags.
Its walls display London’s skyline and the park is filled with iconic London designs such as the red telephone box and Routemaster bus.
Some Heathrow staff are dressed like park wardens for the day and a bearskin guard is stationed at ticket presentation.
Athletes will be invited to record their favourite memory of the London Games and hang it on a tree which will be displayed at Heathrow after the Games. Athletes’ comments will be collated into books that will be presented to the 1,300 Heathrow volunteers who have helped make arrivals and departures such a success.
The Games Terminal is part of a completely new departures process that has been put in place for Olympic athletes. Departing athletes are expected to leave with more than three bags per person, including outsize sporting equipment.
To make departures easier and to cope with the large number of bags, athletes used check-in and bag-drop facilities at the Olympic Village yesterday.
Some 5,040 bags were successfully collected at the Olympic Village and processed through Heathrow’s baggage system overnight to relieve the pressure on the airport today.
Around 6,000 athletes are expected to travel from the Olympic Village to the Games Terminal today, its busiest day of its operation.
The temporary terminal is part of Heathrow’s £20 million investment in handling London 2012 passengers.
Equivalent in size to three Olympic swimming pools, the terminal has 31 check-in desks and seven security lanes to help deal with the high number of departures.
After three days of operation the terminal will be decommissioned and the site returned to its original use as a staff car park.
No aircraft depart from the Games Terminal.
Instead, athletes will take an airside coach to their final departure point where they’ll be able to mingle with regular passengers as they wait for their flight.
Athletes will be clapped into each terminal by a ‘guard of honour’ made up of Heathrow volunteers as we wish them luck in their future sporting endeavours.
Heathrow has been proud to play its part in a successful London Olympics, with thousands of athletes, spectators and Olympic officials receiving the warmest of welcomes as they arrived in London.
An army of pink-suited volunteers greeted them with smiles whilst the increased immigration staffing put in place by Border Force saw minimal queues as people entered the UK.
As a result passengers rated their arrival at Heathrow during July as the best ever, with the airport’s monthly customer satisfaction survey achieving it highest score since records began in 1990.
Regular passengers should check-in through their normal terminal three-hours before scheduled departure for long-haul flights and two-hours before scheduled departure time for European flights.
They can expect a normal journey and should not have to wait any longer than usual, but they might be lucky enough to spot some of the heroes of the 2012 Games in their departure lounge.
Colin Matthews, chief executive of BAA, said: “We want to continue the feel-good factor of the Games at the airport on our busiest day for departing athletes.
“I hope our Games Terminal park will bring a smile to passengers’ faces and contribute to final happy memories of London.”