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My brother is British, who is traveling to Scotland coming from Qatar on Qatar Airways. He'll have to spend two hours and a half in Heathrow as his ticket is a connecting flight and he has to change planes.

Can he leave the airport and have a coffee with me? His luggage will be transferred from one plane to another as usual and he does not have to pick them up for a coffee break.

  • 8
    If he has time, yes, of course he can. Why wouldn't he be able to? – phoog Dec 8 '15 at 19:52
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    Definitley possible but with only a 2.5 hours window, it might not be advisable – user37840 Dec 9 '15 at 13:54
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    Please bear in mind that Qatar use Terminal 4, while the domestic flight will be on BA, which use Terminal 5. This is quite a difficult transfer - you need to take the Heathrow Express / Connect (free of charge) to the central terminal area, then change to a train for T5. This connection could take around 30 minutes or more. Add in time to get off the plane and clear immigration on arrival, then check-in time in T5, and you are really going to struggle for time. – Gavin Coates Dec 10 '15 at 13:59
39

He will go through immigration in Heathrow anyway. Nobody will stop him from going through customs without his checked baggage. After coffee, he'll have to go through security to get to the gate, using his boarding pass, and will go through customs again, but not immigration, on arrival in Scotland.

I've done this many times, both as the traveler and as the coffee companion.

  • 14
    Just to add, you don't have to be a citizen of the country where you're planning on doing so. You need to either hold a valid visa or be allowed to enter the country without a visa. I'm a UK citizen and a few months ago I was flying with a transfer in Warsaw (Poland). I had 12 hours between flights - so I just took a train into the city and spend the day in the city before returning to the airport. – Aleks G Dec 8 '15 at 23:26
  • @AleksG quite so. I've never done this in any country where I was a citizen of that country. – phoog Dec 8 '15 at 23:33
  • @phoog Don't most Scottish airports have separated domestic arrivals baggage claims that bypass customs? I know there is a red phone for customs declarations but it isn't quite the same as passing through the green/blue/red channels. – Calchas Dec 9 '15 at 11:33
  • @Calchas I've only been to Scotland once, maybe 12 years ago, arriving from the Schengen area, so I don't know and/or don't remember. You are probably right. – phoog Dec 9 '15 at 16:38
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    @Calchas Sort of. There's normally a separate baggage claim area for non-EU-origin journeys in the domestic arrivals section, which has a red customs phone. Leaving that area without using the customs phone is legally equivalent to the green channel (the blue channel doesn't apply because it's only non-EU). (Technically this only applies to custom ports; I can't remember what the process for connecting to flights to the tiny airports in the Islands.) – gsnedders Dec 9 '15 at 17:23
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Yes, he should simply follow the "Arrivals and baggage claim" sign and not the "Flight connections sign".

No one at the airport will know that he is a connecting passenger as he leaves the airport. There is no way for anyone to realise that. His bags will still be transferred. Even if they do know, it is totally allowed (although someone might think he is lost).

After dinner with you he can go over to Terminal 5, go up to the top floor, go to a check in desk to get his next boarding pass (if he doesn't have it), or if he does have it he can go airside. He needs to go airside at least 35 minutes before departure and this is strictly enforced.

By the way, when I connect from international to domestic at Heathrow, I always go this way instead of following the normal Flight Connections route. This is a lot faster, that's why.

  • Domestic connections at T5 are often very quick: there's two parallel queues prior to security (downstairs), one for domestic transfers (taking you through the UK border, with normally half a dozen staff and nobody waiting) and one for international transfers (taking you in a huge long queuing system normally full to the brim). – gsnedders Dec 9 '15 at 17:31
  • @gsnedders The int-dom passport queue is slower than the e-gates (usually no wait at all) and the flight connections all goes to the same very very slow security queue upstairs. Since they removed passport fast track for gold card holders I have found the transfer route exceptionally slow. For what it's worth I never waited long in the fast track int-int line for the boarding pass check but it is still faster to exit via customs than face the transfer security queue. In my experience anyway. – Calchas Dec 9 '15 at 18:17
  • My experience is there's normally no wait at all for the int-dom passport queue, and there's normally no noticeable difference in approaching security from connections or landslide. I expect some of this is time-of-day based (I don't think I've ever transferred before mid-afternoon). – gsnedders Dec 9 '15 at 19:03
11

Of course he can. A citizen can come and go as he pleases (at least, in the UK, he can). He will, as others have pointed out, have to go through immigration, but no one will prevent him from leaving the airport.

But if you meet him in the airport, he is less likely to miss his connecting flight. Two and a half hours minus security on return, passport control twice, and travel to & from your meeting place won't leave him much time.

In fact, to make it achievable, it seems like you live nearby. So why not save him the stress and go to the airport to meet him?

That way, you will both have more time together.

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    This is the same as leaving the airport from the perspective of the question, since he will have to go outside security to do this. But yeah, this is the way to go for a 2.5 hour layover. It will take too long to travel to somewhere else and then come back to the airport. – user35890 Dec 9 '15 at 14:25
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    Yup, meet him at the airport and have coffee there. If he misses the flight they'll have to find and unload his baggage for security reasons and that will cause a lot of inconvenience for everyone- not sure if there could be a penalty for that. – Spehro Pefhany Dec 9 '15 at 21:18
  • Domestic flights are occasionally so cheap you could buy a one way domestic flight, go through security, and meet him airside (and not take the flight). You just need one on the same day. – abligh Dec 10 '15 at 10:25
8

Here is an alternative: Buy yourself a full fare refundable ticket and go through security. Have coffee with him behind security. "Miss" your flight and get the refund. You will spend more time with him as you can be with him right up until the time he has to board. If his plane is delayed, you can spend even more time with him.

4

I've done this twice, both time in countries that I am not a citizen of (I'm Irish).

Once in Bogota, during a five-hour layover. We left the airport as normal, through immigration (without our checked bags), took a taxi downtown, and enjoyed an nice afternoon strolling the old town. On returning back to the airport, we just bypassed checkin (we already had boarding cards) and straight to security. No problems.

The next time was in Washington DC. We left the airport during a six-hour layover to visit some friends. But this time we missed our flight as there was a problem with our child's boarding card which took forever to fix and then the security in Dulles is so slooooow! We had to find a hotel and fly the next morning.

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