Heathrow Meets Challenge Posed by Olympic Arrivals

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    Nov 05, 2012
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Months and years of preparation paid off for Heathrow organizers as Olympic athletes flowed into the bustling airport on Monday, July 16th. Heathrow managed 236,955 departures and arrivals, making it the busiest day the airport has ever seen. Heathrow usually averages between 100 thousand and 110 thousand arrivals daily, but they saw over 121 thousand on the 16th.

Former British Army officer Nick Cole headed up the airport’s Olympic preparations, bringing in extra staff, volunteers and security to ensure the smooth processing of Olympic VIP’s. Athletes from 50 participating countries landed with their assorted gear, to be greeted by oversized Olympic rings and teams of volunteers and airport employees who worked efficiently to process the athlete’s bicycles, sails, javelins, etc. Hundreds of customs agents laboured to shorten the normally long immigration lines and wait times.

Some have labelled the influx of Olympic participants into Heathrow Britain’s largest transportation challenge during peacetime, which naturally excludes the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940. Thanks to the efforts of Nick Cole, Heathrow staff and volunteers and military and local law enforcement personnel, Heathrow managed the extra traffic well. Coordinators even managed some entertainment for newly-arrived athletes. Outside Terminal 5, a choir performed Adele’s 2011 hit, “Rolling in the Deep”, though most travellers were probably too busy to truly appreciate the music. Rows of buses stood ready to transport VIP’s to the Olympic Village, in east London.

Though things went well at the airport, not all was happiness and joy as the athletes began arriving. In spite of designated traffic lanes displaying painted Olympic rings, some athletes experienced rather long journeys from the airport to the Olympic Park. One American athlete tweeted that his bus had been lost for several hours, a fact with which he was not pleased. Perhaps he would have been better off with a Heathrow airport taxi after all. Even so, most of the buses managed to navigate the route just fine and everyone arrived safely. Boris Johnson, London’s Mayor, noted that passengers whose buses got lost had a chance to see more of the city than they otherwise would have. Now that’s “bright side” thinking for you.

Olympic participants can take advantage of VIP bus rides and designated traffic lanes, but everyone else must still make their own arrangements for transport to and from Heathrow Airport. No other traffic, including taxis, is permitted in Olympic-only travel lanes, but London and Heathrow taxis are allowed to drive in bus lanes. Because of this privilege, not to mention the cabbies’ familiarity with the area, Heathrow airport taxis are still visitors’ best bet for getting to and from the airport and around London.

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