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I am flying from New York to Nairobi, Kenya, with a layover at Heathrow.

Both flights are on the same itinerary with British Airways (i.e. it was booked as a flight from New York to Nairobi). They are both in terminal 5 at Heathrow. I'm a US citizen, if that's relevant.

What exactly will I have to do during my layover in the UK? Specifically, will I have to:

  • go through customs? immigration?
  • claim checked bags and recheck them?
  • go through security again?
  • anything else? for example, I have heard something about having to go to a "flight connections" counter after I land in London and I'm not allowed to get on the 2nd flight without checking in here

I'm seeing a lot of conflicting information, and am trying to decide if I should pay $84 to pre-select seats at the front of the cabin to get out of the plane quicker/get to the front of any lines. I have a 2 hour layover in Heathrow.

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3 Answers 3

up vote 10 down vote accepted

British Airways provide a lot of information on T5 on their website, including all about Flight Connections. I'd very much suggest you read through that.

To tackle the main bits, assuming you have a single ticket covering both legs of your journey:

  • You will not pass through UK customs
  • You will not pass through UK immigration
  • Your bags will be checked through to your final BA destination, so won't have to be collected or re-checked. (Check the baggage tags given to you at checkin to ensure they have been tagged all the way through)
  • If your starting airport is able, they'll give you your second boarding pass
  • If not, you'll have to go to the flight connections desk to collect it
  • On arrival, you'll follow the purple Flight Connections signs, and have your boarding pass + passport checked
  • You will have to clear security, which is upstairs from flight connections, before you enter the main departures area of the terminal

As long as there are no flight delays on your inbound, 2 hours will be fine. Queues to get your boarding pass checked before security tend not to be too bad, and while security can be shocking at times, we're talking 30-45 minutes at bad times.

One thing to check when you arrive is what bit of T5 you arrive in, and where you go from. T5 actually has three buildings, linked by an underground shuttle train, T5A (the main bit), T5B and T5C. If you arrive at B or C gates, and depart again from B or C, you can clear flight connections and security there, which is generally a lot quieter. However, if either flight involves the main A gates, you'll have to do security there, which can have delays at busy times.

I've managed to find a CC-BY photo from Terminal 5 Insider which shows what you'd see at T5A: Photo of T5A flight connections, from www.flickr.com/photos/22819720@N02/

This is at the far end of the Purple Flight Connections signs in T5A. To your right are the desks, where you'd go to collect your onward boarding pass if you didn't already have it. To the left is the UK border, which you'd have got to if you'd followed the yellow arrivals signs instead. Straight ahead is where they'll check your passport and scan your onwarding boarding pass, then it's up the escalators in the background to get to security. You need to get your boarding pass scanned by 35 minutes before departure (conformance), so with 2 hours you'll be fine!

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Thank you! This is more information than I ever expected! –  Jer Jan 31 at 18:43

OP here. Just to confirm what others have said, we:

  • did not have to claim and recheck bags
  • did not have to do anything like checking in again
  • did not have to go through customs or immigration
  • DID have to go through security

I just wanted to add this answer to note that we had the option to book flights which would have given us a one hour layover in London. We basically would have had no chance of making it if we had such a short layover. Terminal 5 is so big that you have to take a train to get to other areas within the same terminal (if that's the case, why not just give them different terminal numbers??). It's really shocking that BA, of all airlines, would let you book an itinerary with a layover short enough that it would essentially be impossible to make the connecting flight.

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They do have different terminal labels - there's T5A, T5B and T5C! They're all called T5 because it's only one terminal with one entrance, just with two satellites. If everything is on time, a one hour connection through T5 is fine, but as you discovered there's no margin for error –  Gagravarr Jun 5 at 14:34
    
Ah, I didn't notice that at all (and probably more importantly, you're not told that when you book your ticket - so someone with a short connection may see that both flights are in "Terminal 5" and think that it will be ok). As for "everything on time" - if by that you mean "10 minute line at security or less" then I agree. I'm not sure what normal wait times are, but we wasted absolutely no time (i.e. straight from the plane to security to the other terminal to the gate) and it took about an hour - if we had an hour connection we would have missed the flight, and all flights were on time. –  Jer Jun 5 at 15:13
    
Flights have a normal allocation, but it can change, and the gate (+ hence whether T5A/B/C) is only announced about 2 hours out, which is why they can't tell you beforehand. If there's not much of a security queue, you ought to be fine to do T5C arrival to post-security in T5A in about 15 mins. T5A arrival to T5B or C would be similar. C to B is probably quicker, as they have their own transfer security points. If you don't want to wait for the transit, you can walk it, and that doesn't take too long –  Gagravarr Jun 5 at 15:31
    
Ok, we might have had an unusually long queue for security. I might be getting the flights confused, but I remember a long line downstairs in a "waiting area" (there was a cool holographic woman at the base of the stairs), and then once we were allowed upstairs, another line at the actual security station. So maybe this wasn't normal (it was a Saturday morning, which is probably busy). Also if you know where you're going it would be faster of course. –  Jer Jun 5 at 16:06
    
Assuming you came into T5A, there's a (normally short) queue for the connections boarding card check, then straight up the escalators and along into the security scanner queues. If it's really busy, there's a second set of queues before they let you up the escalators. Sounds like you arrived at a time which was either busy, or where the Heathrow Airport staff were being useless, hence the unusual second queue. If there's a queue there, it can be quicker to enter the UK through the normal border then go upstairs to the other set of security! –  Gagravarr Jun 5 at 16:23

As both legs of your trip are on the same ticket, your luggage will be checked through to your final destination (NBO). These days you don't have much choice in the matter.

Heathrow offers an online international connections guide, but in general, it is set up for "sterile" connections. It is not necessary for you to be admitted to the United Kingdom, and thus not necessary for you to be processed through immigration. When you debark from your transatlantic leg, there should be signs for Flight Connections, Connecting Passengers, International Transit or some such. Follow these signs to stay airside.

You would then pass through a security screening where your carry-on bags will be examined. You will need to be in compliance with the usual rules about liquids, blades, and so on, so if you filled a water bottle in the terminal in New York, be sure it is empty by the time you reach the screening point.

As you are connecting within the same terminal, two hours should be adequate provided your flight arrives on time and without incident. If you would like more reassurance, you can contact BA to see if they would schedule you on a later connection to NBO.

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Thank you! Unfortunately there's only one flight per day to Nairobi, so if our inbound flight is delayed we'll be stuck in London for a night. –  Jer Jan 31 at 18:48

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