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A friend of mine is transiting through Heathrow Terminal 5 and they don't have a UK visa. In order to meet my friend, I am planning to book a cheap flight out of Terminal 5 around the same time my friend will be in the transit so I can clear to security and spend a few hours with my friend then I will leave the airport without flying. Any issues with that plan?

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    There is another reason I can think of for this case. Say that one has booked a first or business class ticket on British Airways on an evening or night flight. Under their policy, premium passengers are exempt from the restriction that they can only check in within 3 hours of their flight. Someone could want to check in early so they can enjoy a free breakfast and/or lunch, lock their luggage in the provided lockers, then leave the terminal for other reasons (to attend an afternoon business meeting or to plane-spot) before heading back inside to board the plane.
    – gparyani
    Feb 21, 2023 at 5:05
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    AFAIK T5 is predominantly used by BA so a potential issue could be finding a flight cheap enough to make this plan worth the cost heathrow-airport-guide.co.uk/terminal-5.html Another logistical issue to consider is that a late arrival of your friend’s inbound flight could significantly reduce their layover time
    – Traveller
    Feb 21, 2023 at 10:04
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    Is your friend sure that they do not need a UK visa to transit? gov.uk/check-uk-visa
    – shoover
    Feb 21, 2023 at 19:32
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    In Singapore (not in the UK as far as I am aware), doing this is a crime: edition.cnn.com/travel/article/singapore-airport-ticket-arrest Feb 22, 2023 at 3:01
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    I was gonna mention that. Apparently a lot of fans did it to be able to see korean boy bands. Its really worth checking local laws Feb 22, 2023 at 5:22

4 Answers 4

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Couple things to add to all of the above answers. First, as pointed out in another answer, it's best to book a flight with the departure time around the same time as you friend's departure time (so as to not stick around too long after your flight departure).

And second, as a matter of courtesy, before the departure of your booked flight, do come to the airline's desk airside and inform them that something personal has come up and you are not going to fly. No need to go into the details - just make sure the airline knows that you won't be flying. This will avoid them calling "Passenger such-and-such, this is your last call, please come to the boarding gate immediately", and may free up a seat for somebody that really needs to fly. Moreover, you may be able to get some money our of it, even with the cheapest ticket, as the taxes portion may be refundable.

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    Good advice, especially the part where you communicate about not taking the flight. That is definitely going to be appreciated if not by the airline, by the cabin crew.
    – bracco23
    Feb 21, 2023 at 10:30
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    Passenger such-and-such, this is your last call, please come to the boarding gate immediately => in my experience airlines don't do this anymore. They just close the gate and that's it.
    – JonathanReez
    Feb 21, 2023 at 16:51
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    @JonathanReez in France they usually do. With an incresingly annoyed voice. They do not do that on all flights, though.
    – WoJ
    Feb 21, 2023 at 17:37
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    @WoJ I would guess that checked baggage makes the biggest difference there. Finding and unloading the offending piece of luggage still takes much more time than waiting a few minutes for a slow passenger.
    – mlk
    Feb 21, 2023 at 17:44
  • @JonathanReez In the US, at least some airlines still do. Recently flew in the US and then on to Japan and heard many such calls in the 2 US airports we departed and transited through.
    – chadbag
    Feb 23, 2023 at 16:26
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At Heathrow T5 through the use of biometrics, domestic and international (+international transit) passengers are able to mix. For this reason it isn't possible to just walk out once you 'miss' your booked flight.

You need to go to customer services airside and request to be added to a list to be walked out through immigration - they do this around once an hour and someone will come from security to escort the group out of the mixed departures lounge, through UK immigration. I've done this a couple times before when for example flights are cancelled or I've missed connections.

While I don't see any issue with your plan, bear in mind that it can take time to wait for a group to be escorted out, and you will have interaction with both BA and the immigration staff on why you need to leave the terminal and didn't take your flight etc.

While ID wouldn't be required for a domestic flight, I'd recommend taking some with you just in case the biometric system failed and you were asked to prove your identity and right to remain in the UK when passing immigration on leaving the terminal.

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  • If OP is a UK/Irish citizen they could also just exit through immigration without the slightest trouble.
    – JonathanReez
    Feb 21, 2023 at 16:50
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    @JonathanReez IIRC there's no way to walk directly from the departures area of T5 to immigration. That's what kes is talking about.
    – Sneftel
    Feb 21, 2023 at 17:04
  • My understanding is that it's possible but you need the special escort group if you want to avoid immigration.
    – JonathanReez
    Feb 21, 2023 at 17:05
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    I don't think you have an option of avoiding immigration... after all, you need to show your passport to somebody. The "special escort group" is presumably because they need to take you through restricted areas of the airport to even get to immigration. The departures area of T5 is just for departures. There is literally no "normal" way to get from there to landside.
    – Sneftel
    Feb 21, 2023 at 17:10
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    Yup it's exactly that, there's no way to walk out otherwise. The security escort will also check passengers against the photo taken on entry, and log the passenger out of the biometric system. That system has been known to go down which then requires manual checks of domestic passengers (not necessarily trivial when there is no ID requirement)
    – kes
    Feb 22, 2023 at 10:16
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People buy refundable plane tickets, get to the gate, and then don't take the flight. Generally this has no consequences for them. If someone comes to believe that you are not just a business traveler whose meeting was cancelled just as the flight was boarding, then you might find that the airline chooses not to sell you a ticket some other time in the future.

People have done this before, usually for lounge access. This blog has some tips. This Quora question ranges from "if you go in the lounge you won't get a refund" to "sure it's cool". This article says United is cracking down on people who do this, but again that's about using the lounge. This article says "many world carriers do have rules in their ticketing contracts forbidding the practice of purchasing tickets that you have no intention to fly" where of course the issue is demonstrating "you have no intention" of flying, and then after that, what the airline is going to do about it.

In practice, I think airline consequences happen to people who are using airport lounges for 12 hour free food-and-drink sessions day after day, not to someone who does this once. Nevertheless, I would strongly encourage you to do this at most once. It is a trick. You are consuming effort by airline people, and possibly keeping someone else from buying a ticket they truly want, in order to get around the visa rules of your country.

Also, don't stick around after the departure time of that flight you're not taking. I think that makes it more obvious that you didn't cancel the flight just because your meeting was cancelled or you had an emergency at home, but rather that you never intended to take it.

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Any issues with that plan?

No.

You buy a ticket so the airline gets their money and has really nothing to complain about. While it may technically violate the spirit of the terms and conditions, it's inconsequential: people miss their flights all the time for all sort of different reasons. It's perfectly normal and the airline will not pay any attention to it.

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    Not an universal case. In Singapore changi airport, it was explicitly pasted that 'Entering the immigration with no intention to travel is a punishable offense'. Feb 21, 2023 at 10:33
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    @AnishSheela - Kinda hard to prove that you had no intention to travel if you have a ticket though Feb 21, 2023 at 14:39
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    @ScottishTapWater Seems like it is regularly enforced - edition.cnn.com/travel/article/singapore-airport-ticket-arrest/… Feb 21, 2023 at 15:56
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    @AnishSheela - That's really weird... I suppose it must be a real nuisance there if they're enforcing it like that... I also imagine they have a different standard of "proof" Feb 21, 2023 at 16:45
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    @ScottishTapWater The bottom of the CNN article briefly mentions why this is of interest to the authorities: people going to buy goods at duty free without traveling, which is tax evasion. This isn't an issue in some countries that deliver duty free to the passenger at the time of boarding.
    – user71659
    Feb 21, 2023 at 18:54

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