When the first-ever Elizabeth line train to serve Heathrow Terminal 4 arrived at 5.25am, only five people disembarked. The terminal, which previously handled millions of passengers flying with dozens of airlines, closed two years ago as the coronavirus pandemic undermined international aviation.
On the departure level, staff at Caffè Nero posed for a group photograph as they reopened the coffee bar after 26 months.
During the worst of the Covid crisis, “T4” was mothballed, with carriers moved to Terminals 2 and 5. The only passenger action the terminal saw was in December 2021, when part of T4 was briefly used as a processing facility for “red list” arrivals before they were taken into hotel quarantine.
With travel restrictions ending and passenger numbers rising, Terminal 4 has now reopened – though initially with only one destination, Doha, served by a single airline, Qatar Airways.
By 7am on opening day, the first two inbound flights, QR9 and QR11, had arrived. Passenger processing through UK Border Force and baggage handling was reported to be smooth.
Later this week airlines including Kenya Airways and Korean Air will move across, with another tranche resuming residence on Wednesday 22 June.
Within a month at least two dozen carriers should be operating from the airport, including El Al of Israel, Etihad of Abu Dhabi, Gulf Air of Bahrain, ITA (formerly Alitalia) and Malaysia Airlines.
There will, though, be some notable absences compared with pre-pandemic times: Air France and KLM are remaining at Terminal 3, along with their alliance partner Delta, while the Russian airline Aeroflot is banned from UK skies due to the invasion of Ukraine.
Passenger numbers for the airport are still more than 20 per cent down on 2019 levels, and there had been speculation – including in The Independent – that Terminal 4 might remain closed until 2023.
But Emma Gilthorpe, chief commercial officer for Heathrow, said: “At some times of day, we have as many aircraft movements as we had in 2019.
“So by opening T4 we give our passengers more space, and our airlines more space, to be able to deliver a better service.
“But it is a balance between thinning out resources, which we know is a challenge for all businesses across the UK, and making sure we have a good environment for passengers before they get on their way.”
Ms Gilthorpe said that Heathrow wanted “to give our passengers certainty that they know their flight is going to go” – even if it means some cancellations made weeks ahead. “We really do want people to fly this summer.”
Public transport access is provided by the Piccadilly line of the London Underground and two Elizabeth line trains each hour from London Paddington. But next Tuesday, these links are expected to be shut down as part of the national and London-wider rail strike.
Heathrow Terminal 4 was constructed in the 1980s as a stop-gap, ahead of the much bigger and better-located Terminal 5. The structure allowed Britain’s busiest airport to expand while the most interminable planning dispute in history unfolded.
But T4 has an awkward location, with arriving or departing aircraft having to cross the active south runway after landing or before take-off. The original concept of Terminal 4 was for the efficient operation of short-haul “point-to-point” services of the kind today operated by easyJet and Ryanair, not intended for connecting traffic or intercontinental flights.
Yet for two decades T4 was the home of British Airways’ long-haul services, including Concorde, until BA consolidated most of its flights in T5.
Airlines returning to Heathrow Terminal
Passengers should check the date their airline is moving.
- Air Algerie
- Air Astana
- Air Malta
- Air Mauritius
- Air Serbia
- Azerbaijan Airlines
- Bulgarian Air
- El Al
- Gulf Air
- Kenya Airways
- Korean Air
- Kuwait Airways
- Malaysia Airlines
- Oman Air
- Qatar Airways
- Royal Air Maroc
- Royal Brunei
- Tunis Air
- Uzbekistan Airways
- Vietnam Airlines