Heathrow: International Travel Hub or Local Tourist Attraction?

Heathrow Airport handles millions of passengers each year, but of the 78 million passengers using Heathrow as part of their journey, how many stopped to consider that Heathrow itself was a tourist attraction.

Upon arrival at Heathrow, leaflets and brochures for West End shows and London Tour Buses can be seen in almost every corridor. But for some, the very buildings that these passengers walk through are the sight to to see.

Its not clear when plane spotting became a hobby comparable to collecting stamps or a quick game of squash. In the UK at least, the aviation industry has always been marvelled and celebrated, with names such as Spitfire, Concorde and Farnborough being the very pinnacle of British aviation.

The UK loves its planes, and there are whole airfields and museums, packed with hangars of the world’s first hang gliders, bi-planes, and jet aircraft. So what sets out Heathrow, a fully functioning airport, to be a tourist attraction.

All credits to this footage belongs to Casey Planespotting.

Location, Location, Location:

Heathrow’s proximity to major towns and cities makes it ideally suited for travellers to choose Heathrow as their airport of choice. Connected by a coach station, London Underground, Heathrow Express and two motorways, its certainly accessible.

Thomas Mercer, former British Airways Cabin Crew, still occasionally visits the airport and the surrounding area. “I’m actually meeting a friend at Terminal 5” – following our interview.

He’s not alone. Buses that connect Heathrow to local boroughs and suburbs such as Feltham, Hillingdon, Hounslow, Staines and Uxbridge provide access to local residents. One bus driver on Heathrow route said “Not a day goes by when there isn’t a local wanting to see the planes. Day or night, rain or fog, they’re always onboard”.

The Facilities:

With shops, cafes, restaurants, transport links and access to medical facilities, Heathrow Airport may as well be London’s 34th Borough. But most of all Heathrow has several observation decks. These observation decks allow for panoramic views of aircraft taxiing the airfield, and views of the surrounding area.

Terminal 2 was once the focal point of tourists, with notable events such as the eclipse of 1999 and last flight of Concorde drawing in crowds onto the 1960s promenade.

Since the demolition of the old Terminal 2 building, a replacement observation deck has not yielded the same number of visitors, but nevertheless visitors still turn up.

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Passers by:

Going to official observation deck made of glass and still among photographers with telescopic lenses can be daunting, and on top of that there’s the roar of engines once every minutes as a plane takes-off or lands once a minutes. So some visitors join local residents and passers by to take in the majestic view of these aircraft from the airport perimeter.

Sites such as Myrtle Road – (close to Great South West Road and Hatton Cross Station) and Harlington Corner – (on Bath Road, near Northern Perimeter Road) have become a beehive of activity for aircraft enthusiasts and passers by.

If travelling on a bus near Heathrow, its impossible to ignore the tourist or flurry of school children who board the bus either to complete the latest stage in their journey or purely for leisure.

Former BA Cabin Crew Thomas Mercer “I do see the appeal of it. when I am near the Heathrow vicinity, I do check my flight radar app, to find out where the plane where the planes are going and what time and watch them take off.”

So it seems even local residents and former aviation employees look towards the sky occasionally to bask at metal birds which have made a home for themselves on their doorstep.

With the expansion of Heathrow imminent and a third runway granted for construction, will the residents of West London be further captivated by the expansion of its neighbour?

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