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Heathrow has started charging £5 for using the drop off zone and the short stay has a minimum charge of £7.50. Given that the traveller is fit and active, and both have mobile telephones (mounted in car for the driver and so legal to use while travelling), what is the best place for a passenger to be dropped off or picked up by a car?

My definition of "best" would probably be whatever is easiest for the driver, even if less convenient for the passenger. I have noticed there are some laybys in the traffic system that are marked "No Parking" rather than "No Stopping" but the ones I saw are on the other side of a very busy multilane road. My instinct is that crossing the road would be unsafe and so other options would probably be better if there is not a safe pedestrian route to the terminal from there.

[EDIT]From the answers, it appears a popular option is public transport. One of the biggest considerations with that route would be a drop off/collection point outside the ULEZ. A small local bus fare would not invalidate such an answer.

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    Not free but my boyfriend used to have me take the tube for a couple of stops, allowing him to avoid the airport traffic jams. That was a few years ago, so I forgot the details.
    – Willeke
    Jan 13 at 11:02
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    That was my immediate thought, for sure. Hatton Cross tube is one stop from LHR, and used in the old days to be the terminus for LHR (final leg by bus) so is pretty well supplied with local parking. TFL fare finder claims it's a free journey by tube (Oyster or contactless) which I neither understand nor believe, but it might be true.
    – MadHatter
    Jan 13 at 11:14
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    @MadHatter my recollection is that the area by Hatton Cross tube is a concrete and wire-mesh jungle, with double-yellow lines on any convenient road. I don't think parking near the tube station is easy. Stopping to set down might well be possible, but I remember find it difficult when I tried a few years ago. Stopping to wait for someone I think would be very tricky.
    – djna
    Jan 13 at 14:19
  • @djna you could well be right, but TFL says the station has a fairly-substantial car park. Then again, I don't have a car, and I don't like cars, so this is not really my core competency, which is why I didn't write an actual answer.
    – MadHatter
    Jan 13 at 14:25
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    If your main worry is about the ULEZ zones (and not about the 5 punds fee) than just use public transport. That is the whole point why these ULEZ zones were established.
    – quarague
    Jan 14 at 9:47

6 Answers 6

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First, please know that The Heathrow Free Travel Zone has been significantly curtailed.

Most bus journeys around the LHR perimeter, which includes public roads, used to be free. As of 2022, they are not. As of 2024, only a few remain and they are primarily for "Team Heathrow" (airport employees).

Tube and train remain free, as others have said, between terminals and to Hatton Cross. Note that you'll still need to tap your contactless credit / debit card in and out at the barriers; you just won't be charged.

As regards the best place to meet and park, you don't specify where you'd be driving to / from, or the LHR arrival / departure terminal, but as the ULEZ is a consideration, I'll assume that this is not for travel from / to central London. If the intention is to travel deeper through London, take public transport for as long as possible, otherwise any ease for the traveller will be more than offset by the inconvenience to the driver.

Options:

From Terminal 5: If the car is ULEZ compliant (check here), then the Long Stay pickup option is pretty good and IMHO under-rated, given that the driver gets 0-29 minutes free. The T5 Long Stay on the Bath Road is close both to the terminal and motorways, and you could be on the M4 within a few minutes. Cost: zero.

From Terminals 2/3: Same applies as above, except that the Long Stay car park is not as close to the motorway. Disclaimer: I haven't used this one. Cost: zero.

From anywhere: Others recommend Hatton Cross. Depending on the driver's confidence, it can get quite busy around here and the 5-minute parking window doesn't give you a lot of wiggle room for pick up. It's also the furthest option from the motorway. Cost: zero, or more if you take longer than 5 minutes.

Outside ULEZ: Depending on where you're going, consider getting a train west (change at Hayes & Harlington). Taplow and Datchet, for instance, are reasonably straightforward for drop off / collection, and nowhere near as busy as Slough or Maidenhead. Cost: price of the train ticket minus additional fuel, depending on where you are ultimately going.

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  • I have accepted this answer as it is the most comprehensive, but I feel it would be improved by added information about the bus. matt freaks answer mentions the A4 and 7 to Slough but perhaps understates the frequency. The 7 is every 30 mins, but the A4 seems to be every 15 giving a lot of buses. I do not know what that would be like in reality.
    – User65535
    Jan 29 at 12:20
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Use Hatton Cross. Drop-off for 5 minutes is free in the station car park.

From here, London Underground (Piccadilly Line) is free to the airport, as the station is in the Heathrow free travel zone. Just tap in with a contactless or payment card and back out on the other side - you'll be charged £0.

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  • This does look really convenient for the traveller. Do you know how it would be for the driver if they had to wait longer than 5 minutes on pick up?
    – User65535
    Jan 14 at 14:48
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    Park a bit further out till the passenger calls to give an ETA. Passenger will be able to wait under cover if needed, if driving takes a little longer.
    – Willeke
    Jan 14 at 15:00
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So according to the official site the way to do this it at the long-stay car parks and using the free shuttle bus to get to the terminal:

"Free drop-off options are available at Heathrow’s Long Stay car parks, where passengers can take a free bus transfer to the terminal."

It's workable but designed to be as unattractive as possible. Getting public transport is a much better option in reality from most areas.

There's also free travel on some public transport with the Heathrow area, although apparently my knowledge there is severely dated now - this has apparently been substantially reduced post-COVID for some reason apparently so as to make it largely useless. Heathrow Early Buses PDF and Travel Around Heathrow PDF

If you want to avoid the ULEZ too and keep it simple for the driver I'd take the X442 bus from Staines probably and then change to get to the other terminals at T5 if that wasn't the terminal you wanted.

Disclaimer: I usually just use public transport and don't actually do any of those things on a time-sensitive basis.

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    Note question edit about ULEZ
    – User65535
    Jan 14 at 9:14
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    Could you please comment on how it is designed to be as unattractive as possible? I am looking into options and consider this as well. As far as I can see now you just take a free bus to there from a terminal, and the bus runs every 15 minutes, and you have 30 minutes free time for your car - which is plenty, just wait outside somewhere for the passenger to call you when they picked the luggage, and drive to the parking after the call. Paying £7.5 for 30 mins would be a reasonable option only if you had guaranteed unboarding + immigration passing time
    – Mykola
    Jan 14 at 23:46
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    As to unattractiveness, the standard for cheap long-stay car-parks is poor signage, long walks with no good pedestrian routes (bad lighting, bad surfaces, suddenly finding a fence barring your way), long drives, surly staff, queues for cars to get in/out, and buses that are a law unto themselves and may take a long time to reach the terminal via 6 other car parks and 3 hotels. It's certainly do-able, but may well be quicker to use public transport, so allow plenty time.
    – Stuart F
    Jan 15 at 13:58
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    Note that the Free Travel Zone was significantly reduced in 2022 (answer below). You might justifiably wonder why heathrow.com still hosts the PDFs linked above when they were produced in 2015 and 2018, respectively, and are very much out of date.
    – Cosmittus
    Jan 16 at 12:44
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    @Mykola I was mostly thinking in terms of signposting - from what I recall maps.app.goo.gl/WbK9oHp8yTPUdpk66 is the only sign you see on approach to the paid drop-off point at Terminal 5 for example, all the other signs leading up to the roundabout make no mention of the dual use of the long-stay parking which led me to conclude that it was designed to be missed.
    – Flexo
    Jan 16 at 22:43
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Having just been dropped-off at Heathrow I was wondering about this. I don't believe that there are good options. Most roads within Heathrow do not have pedestrian access. If you can find a safe and legal place by the Bus Station then this would give access to the pedestrian walkways; I'm not aware of such a stopping point. My guess is that there is no good solution, otherwise everyone would be doing it!

A reasonable option is to use public transport, dropping off at one of the Hounslow tube stations, but of course that's going to cost at least £1.90 for the off peak fare. If the party has more than one person and especially if there is much luggage then a £5.00 charge may actually be not too bad!

Update: It seems that Hatton Cross tube station is a partial solution. Has a drop-off area, free train as it's deemed to be part of Heathrow. Downside, it's in ULEZ zone, which will impose a charge for some older vehicles - but not, for example, my 10 year old Nissan Note.

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    Note question edit about ULEZ
    – User65535
    Jan 14 at 9:14
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There is to the best of my knowledge nowhere in the Heathrow free public transport area that’s outside the ULEZ. So you’ll have to choose between paying the ULEZ charge, paying for public transport, or replacing your vehicle will a less polluting one. If you decide to pay for public transport, the best answer will depend on where you’re coming from/going to. There are, for example, Railair buses from Watford, Reading and Guildford/Woking, which may or may not be convenient for you.

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Answering the question's update to consider ULEZ.

According TFL's text description of the boundary of ULEZ:

Heathrow Airport is inside the ULEZ, as are the roads bordering it and the entrances into it.

You can also see on the map that it extends East, North and a fair bit South too.

enter image description here

So your best bet would be to get a bus to the West. The nearest stop I can obviously spot that is outside the ULEZ and is accessible by a single bus from the Heathrow Central Bus Station is Lakeside Road which the A4 and 7 stop at, on their way to Slough. The buses seem to run every 30 mins and the journey is 11 minutes.

Looking at the stop on Google Street View it looks like there's a bit of laybe there as well, so it looks like a car would be ok to stop there

I assume you've actually checked the vehicle is non-compliant on the TFL site as I've seen some misleading articles about which vehicles would have to pay.

Also some different buses seem to call at Terminal 5, so if you're landing there a different bus route may apply.

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    LHR is inside the zone? Wow, what's the ULEZ charge for a 787?
    – QWasson
    Jan 16 at 11:49
  • Lol great point @QWasson :)
    – Fattie
    Jan 16 at 18:11

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