I am taking a domestic flight departing from London Heathrow Terminal 5, probably T5A. A family member is taking an earlier international flight that same day, probably departing from satellite terminal T5B. If I accompany him to his gate, how can I make it back to T5A to catch my flight?

Update: Sorry, I didn't make the problem clear. There is an automated people mover connecting the main terminal to 5B, a kind of mini-train. However - my understanding is that outbound and inbound flow is segregated, as incoming passengers have not yet cleared UK immigration. From memory, when the train arrives at a satellite terminal, doors open on one side of the train to allow outbound passengers to proceed to departures. The doors then close, and members of staff ensure the train is empty. Doors then open on the other side to allow incoming, non-immigration cleared passengers to enter the train. If I were to attempt to enter the train from the departures side, I am expecting to be made to leave again by staff. Do I remember wrongly, or is there a way around this problem?

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    Why not just say goodbye when you reach the airport? – Lightness Races in Orbit Dec 11 '16 at 15:06
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    Why question was simplified. The person going to 5B is me, my wife, and my young family, and we are emigrating. The people going to 5A are my parents. It's a big deal for us, to say goodbye the right way, and to make our (expensive) flight in good time with a minimum of worry. We want to spend time together after the worry of security and check-in. The detailed and helpful answer below makes a huge difference to us. – Crosbie Dec 11 '16 at 18:58
  • Okay, to each their own. Personally I prefer it the other way around in that sort of situation. – Lightness Races in Orbit Dec 11 '16 at 19:30

Domestic flights from T5 can only leave from T5A so you will indeed have to return to the main building. However any flight can leave from 5A so you might not have to go to 5B or C.

If you find yourself in 5B or 5C, you can walk back through the pedestrian tunnels in the basement. These are called the “Transit Walkway” on the signage, but I think everyone calls them the tunnels or the passageways.

At a brisk pace it is probably about ten minutes back to T5A from 5B, more like 20 minutes from 5C though. The passageways are open to the public and sign posted, although not clearly. You mostly encounter staff and people being transported on electric golf buggies down there. However a growing number of T5 regulars know and love the tunnels, as a faster, quieter and more reliable alternative to the train. Unlike the train you can go in both directions.

The passageway, from 5B to 5C

Here you can see they tried to make the passageways a bit more friendly with stylish purple lights and moving walkways. The moving walkways only run in the “main” direction though, you’ll have to walk around them.

It is faster to take the lifts down rather than the escalators or stairs, you want button “-4” in 5B. Then you walk down a short flight of steps following the sign for “Transit Walkway”. Note that in 5B you have to use the lift by Boots (gate B36) not the lift by Harrods. In 5C, you have to go down to the train platform and then there is a set of double doors at the end of the platform which leads into the passageway. There are separate tunnels for arriving and departing passengers and there is no way to get mixed up. A member of staff will be happy to direct you if you ask.

A photographic guide to the tunnels is available on FlyerTalk, be sure to read posts 3 and 4 which concern exactly your question.

Do not try to take the train back. The train, on the way back to 5A, carries arriving international passengers to passport control and connections security. This will get sticky for you if you have no ID, and even if you have a passport, it will confuse the Ready to Fly system which will assume you are already airside and deny you access through to security. (This can be fixed by BA but not by the Heathrow Airport people next to the gate.)

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    +1 this is an excellent answer, and the FlyerTalk information you linked is a superbly useful guide. – Zach Lipton Dec 11 '16 at 2:37
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    Hmm, if one can just walk from an international-departure gate to a domestic-departure gate, then what's to stop someone from booking an international-to-international transit connection and then instead of taking his connecting flight walk to a domestic gate and board a flight to Leeds with a home-printed or mobile boarding card? They would then effectively enter the UK without being properly admitted. – Henning Makholm Dec 11 '16 at 4:13
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    Thank-you very much indeed! A good result from my first Stack Exchange Travel question. That's an interesting question from Henning Makholm though. – Crosbie Dec 11 '16 at 6:39
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    @HenningMakholm His biometrics won't be on file and he will be denied boarding, and the police or border force will be called over to investigate. When you take a domestic flight from LHR/LGW/MAN, you are photographed on the way in to the terminal. That information is attached to your boarding pass or your Ready to Fly record (T5 only). For people originating at the airport, it's just a photo taken before you go through security. For those arriving from another domestic flight, the photo is taken when you scan your boarding pass to go back airside. For those arriving from abroad, there is ... – Calchas Dec 11 '16 at 16:54
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    ... a dedicated passport control area before connections security, and after your passport is stamped and you are admitted to the UK, your photo is taken at another desk immediately beyond that. When you get to the airplane, before you can board you present your boarding pass. Your face is photographed again and the two pictures compared. If the computer thinks it's the same person, you are allowed to board. If not, then manual intervention is required; potentially the CCTV footage of your arrival into the airport will be examined to decide where you came from. – Calchas Dec 11 '16 at 16:56

A couple of years ago, I was in a similar predicament: I had a long time to wait before my departure from T5A, so decided to explore T5B out of curiosity, and only realized that the trains are one-way after getting there.

I asked a member of staff for help, and she helpfully informed me that there are pedestrian tunnels running alongside the train tunnels. She told me to go back down to the station and find a security guard who would direct me to the pedestrian route. In the event I didn't find any security guards, but the door to the pedestrian tunnel was easy to find and not locked. The tunnel itself was impressively large (I think it's sized to be suitable for emergency evacuation). I didn't see anyone else there but I didn't get the impression that I was trespassing on forbidden territory: it seemed to be designed for public access, even if the possibility isn't publicly advertised.

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    The tunnels are now a bit more user friendly. They are large enough to handle golf carts carrying disable passengers. This is the right answer but I have expanded a bit on it in my own answer. – Calchas Dec 11 '16 at 2:31

Just speak to a member of staff at the terminal and they can direct you to the correct place to board the return train - this happens all the time with accompanies passengers and also people who have gotten off at the wrong stop, don't for a moment think you have an unusual situation :)

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    This is not the correct answer. The departures train runs one way only. Taking the train back puts you on the wrong side of security and passport control. – Calchas Dec 11 '16 at 1:42
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    @Calchas I've done it, its been absolutely fine - this happens every single day, its not an abnormal thing. – Moo Dec 11 '16 at 9:18
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    @calchas I've taken the train back, because I went to the wrong gate for my plane. I ended up back at security, had to go through again and was forced to surrender the bottle of water I had bought on airside. The point about passport control I believe is irrelevant, because I think that is done within T5B, between the station and the gate. Of course if you go through passport control within T5B you will have to go back again. – Level River St Dec 11 '16 at 13:22
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    @LevelRiverSt There are no UKBF facilities at 5B, only at 5A. If you take the train back you will be outside passport control, which is fine if you have an onward international flight. But this pax has a domestic flight, so he needs his biometrics set up correctly. However when he tries to go airside again, his Ready to Fly record (attached to his biometrics) will have to be reset by BA. Only HAL or UKBF can reinstate the record—either exiting through arrival passport control and then back upstairs—or via domestic flight passport control before security in 5A to fix the biometrics. – Calchas Dec 11 '16 at 16:45
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    @Moo Yes, I concede that you can do this, although it is certainly not encouraged by the airport. You have to ride the train up to 5C, wait for it to turn back into an arrivals train, potentially explaining yourself to staff. Then you have to go to the customer service desk to reset the Ready to Fly status (that prevents the same boarding pass being used twice to get airside). Since this is a domestic flight, there are problems with the biometric record that may require a visit to the UKBF (see comment above). Then there is the lengthy connections security queue. I would not recommend it. – Calchas Dec 11 '16 at 17:06

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