Heathrow Airport, although starting its life as a small First World War military airfield never actually saw active service in either world wars. Strangely, unlike many of the airports in the UK it can trace its development as an airport almost solely used for commercial purposes. After a huge expansion when the centrally located terminals were built Heathrow was heralded as the airport of the future, ironically, it is the central location of the terminals, hemmed in by runways that now restrict its expansion. This has not stopped the terminals themselves being built upon however, they now incorporate restaurants, shops and car hire desks to make the traveller's experience more comfortable.
Originally the airport planners presumed that the majority of people flying from Heathrow would be arriving in chauffeur driven cars; not realising that air travel would be opened up to the mass public as it became cheaper. These brilliant road links however have had a benefit in other ways; car hire companies have been able to tout the airport as the ideal destination to begin a trip of Britain.
Heathrow is the UK's busiest airport and as such millions of people pass through it from nearly every country in the world. Due to the large numbers of people always in the terminals, commercial centres have arisen providing travellers with all manner of services, from coach companies, car hire businesses and major high street shops selling everything from electrical goods to fashion items. Because of the commercial interest Heathrow employs thousands of people from the surrounding area, not just in terms of shop staff but also those who work for the airlines and those involved in the maintenance of the airport.
Heathrow's proximity to the M25, one of the major motorways in the UK means that by road it is possible to reach anywhere in the country quickly and easily. The M25 acts as a hub to many destinations in the UK, the West Country and the Southeast are easily accessible but journeys can also be made to the Midlands, the North and even Wales. Understandably, car hire companies and coach trip operations are more than happy to exploit these road links.
Although it has experienced a number of teething problems, the latest addition, Terminal 5 is designed to be the most modern and efficient of all the terminals at the airport. Nearly all of British airways flights are now located in the terminal meaning that the company now has its own terminal in the UK's busiest airport. It was opened this year in early March although a full schedule was not operated from the terminal until April due to problems with the advanced automated baggage handling system. Once again transport links to the terminal have been a major part of the development with rail and road links making for rapid transit from London or anywhere else in the country.
The chances for profit in this new terminal are immense. As with many airports the courting of business customers has been a considerable effort, making sure they are supplied with sufficient parking and car hire provisions as well as comfortable waiting lounges has been the major method of attracting this custom.
The future of Heathrow is somewhat assured, it is unlikely it will lose its mantle as the UK's major airport although other airports, especially those serving London are also expanding. Of these Stansted is in the running to gain a second runway and increase its air traffic, despite protests from local residents. Airport expansion is a large issue at the moment with many of the UK airports producing expansion plans, one thing is certain, as these airports expand, the accompanying services will continue to grow and employ many workers from all around the world.
Travel expert Thomas Pretty looks into how expansion and development have made the car hire Heathrow Airport experience more efficient and simpler.