Heathrow In The Late 90’s. A Trip Down Memory Lane.

A trip down memory lane for me!

One of the highlights of the school holidays for me when I was younger was taking the coach from my local station to Heathrow Airport.

The day would start around 9am, and I’d take the coach to Terminal 4. This way, the route would go around the perimeter road at the airport, meaning some views of the runway. Upon arrival, it was a quick look around the terminal before hopping on to the Heathrow Express over to the central area.

Normally, it would be over to terminal 3 first. From the Heathrow Express station, you could access the Virgin Atlantic check in area directly from the underground pedestrian walkway. These days, that particular route is still there. However, there’s some pretty serious looking doors there, with some equally serious “STAFF ONLY” signs up.

Of note is that when walking through the tunnels between terminal 2, 3 and the central station is that there is a service tunnel between terminal 3 and the central station that still features the original brown/beige brickwork that the whole tunnel previously featured.

Back in those days, there were a lot more shops and restauraunts landside, so it was a quick look around there to stock up on supplies for the day. After this, it would be up to the car park, which would give some reasonable views across to runway 27R. Although even back then, security didn’t like people hanging out there, so I didn’t normally stick around for too long!

Next stop was a walk across the bridge, past the huge rotating radar to terminal 1. Nothing was really needed there, but I enjoyed people watching in the check in area.

At this time, there was an indoor walkway over to the old terminal 2. This passed the BA check in desks in terminal 1 and went through the Queens Building. It was generally pretty quiet. The only things from memory I can really remember there that were open to the public was a couple of staff shops.

You would then be in Terminal 2. The old terminal 2. Even back then, the terminal was in need of pulling down! Not much time was spent in this terminal.

When Heathrow Had An Official Viewing Deck

Yes, you read that correctly. Until around the mid 2000’s, Heathrow had an official viewing deck.

Situated on top of the Queens Building, my memory of it was that it was a quite nice place to be in the summer. Despite having to walk up a huge flight of stairs. Once up there, you were greeted with a patio area towards the far end, there was a shop selling a number of aviation bits and pieces. I recall that this was the first place I saw the very first GeminiJets release. A Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747-400. I was very tempted to get it, but it was either just that or a number of Wooster snap together models. I went for quantity over quality though. In hindsight, I wish I had got the GeminiJets model now!

I can’t be totally sure, but I think the shop that was on top of the Queens went on to become Aviation Retail Direct. There was also a cafe up there.

The highlight of the area though was the viewing deck. The main downside though was the fact it was too popular! Being young at the time, I didn’t quite have the confidence in myself to shove my way to the front when the opportunity presented itself. Instead, I took more of an after you approach. Meaning that more often than not, I was looking through, between and any other way possible the people in front.

The Visitor Centre

Once I was done at the observation deck, it was over to the central bus station. What is now the Heathrow Academy was originally the visitor centre, opened as a part of the airports 50th birthday celebrations in 1998.

This included a number of exhibits, including flight deck mock up, complete with a mini economy class cabin. From memory, the flight deck was a 777, playing a video of an approach to Heathrow. The cabin certainly wasn’t though! It was a few rows of former aircraft seats, set up in a 3-3 layout.

Another memory was a huge British Airways Boeing 777 cut out along the wall. I wonder where that is these days?! At this time, this was the latest, greatest and most modern aircraft in the world.

Upstairs, there was a cafe, along with various aviation bits available for sale. Again, much like on the observation deck, these were offered by Mach III, which I think may have been the forerunner to Aviation Retail Direct.

The best part of this area though was the great views across runway 27R and, beyond that, the domestic gates at Terminal 1.

The Visitor Centre closed in the mid 2000’s. Although I did pay one more visit to the building afterwards. By that point, the building was used as a training centre for all the workers that would be on site during the construction of terminal 5. And that was the reason for my visit.

Collectors Aircraft Models

The final stop of most days out was probably the best.

After stopping for lunch at McDonalds along Bath Road (which is still there to this day), it was along to the Sheraton Skyline hotel.

Generally, a walk along the A4 wouldn’t stick in the mind. However, one memory was on one occasion, Concorde was departing from runway 27R. Being a generally small aircraft, I couldn’t see it through the buildings. But boy could I hear it! I looked back along the road and saw as it lifted off, complete with the four afterburners still glowing and plumes of black smoke trailing it.

But why was I heading to a hotel? Within the hotel was Collectors Aircraft Models.

The main player in model aircraft back in those days was Wooster. As mentioned above, Gemini Jets had only just come on to the scene in the middle of 1999.

Back then, the shop had all the latest releases. If you could think of it, they more than likely had it. The staff were knowledgeable and friendly. It’s a shame my final dealings with the company were such a negative ones really.

The final visit I made was around 2008/2009. The shop had more staff than models. I walked out empty handed. A few months later, I was after a model that was mostly sold out. They listed it as being in stock however. For reasons I cant remember now, I didn’t order it online and instead phoned them. I told them what I wanted, and was met with a rather abrupt ‘we haven’t got that’. Oh, ok, well what about this instead. ‘No’. Right do you have this in stock? ‘No’. Getting rather fed up with their blunt attitude by this point, I decided to give some back: Do you have anything in stock? ‘No’. They hung up.

After that encounter, along with their somewhat lousy service in the shop itself, I didn’t use them again. Around 2010/2011, they more or less vanished off the face of the earth. And pretty quickly from what I can gather too.

A bit of a shame considering they were once a very good retailer.

And Finally

The final memory I will share is a list of which airlines used which terminals. Quite different from today! This has been taken from an information leaflet that I picked up from the airport on one of my visits. I couldn’t find a date on the document, but I suspect it is likely to be from either 1998 or 1999.

A trip down memory lane!
Terminal 1
  • Aer Lingus
  • Alliance
  • British Airways
  • British Midland
  • Cyprus Airways
  • El Al
  • Finnair
  • GB Airways
  • Icelandair
  • Manx Airlines
  • Sabena
  • South African Airways
  • Virgin Express
  • Zambian Express Airways
Terminal 2
  • Adria Airways
  • Aeroflot
  • Aerolineas Argentinas
  • Air Algerie
  • Air France
  • Alitalia
  • Austrian Airlines
  • Avianca
  • Balkan-Bulgarian Airlines
  • Cathay Pacific*
  • Croatia Airlines
  • Cronus Air
  • Cross Air
  • CSA Czech Airlines
  • Iberia
  • Istanbul Airlines
  • JAT Yugoslavia
  • LOT Polish
  • Lufthansa
  • Luxair
  • Malev
  • Olympic Airways
  • Royal Air Maroc
  • Swissair
  • Syrian Arab
  • TAP Portugal
  • TAROM
  • Tunis Air
  • Uzbekistan Airways
  • Virgin Atlantic*

*Due to a lack of stands at terminal 3 during this period, a number of Virgin Atlantic and Cathay Pacific flights arrived into Terminal 2. Obviously the Cathay Pacific flights were all from Hong Kong. From memory, the Virgin Atlantic flights from Miami, Cape Town and possibly Washington arrived into terminal 2? This arrangement ended around 2000 though, after more stands were constructed at terminal 3. Departures to these destinations continued as usual from terminal 3.

Terminal 3
  • Air Baltic
  • Air Canada
  • Air China
  • Air India
  • Air Jamaica
  • Air Mauritius
  • Air Namibia
  • Air New Zealand
  • ANA
  • American Airlines
  • Biman Bangladesh
  • British Airways
  • British Midland
  • BWIA
  • Cathay Pacific
  • EgyptAir
  • Emirates
  • Ethiopian Airlines
  • EVA Air
  • Ghana Airways
  • Gulf Air
  • Iran Air
  • Japan Airlines
  • Korean Air
  • Kuwait Airways
  • Lithuanian Airlines
  • Malaysian Airlines System
  • MEA
  • Nigeria Airways
  • PIA
  • Philippine Airlines
  • Qatar Airways
  • Royal Brunei
  • Royal Jordanian
  • SAS
  • Saudi Arabian Airlines
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Thai
  • Turkish Airlines
  • Turkmenistan Airlines
  • United Airlines
  • VARIG
  • Virgin Atlantic
Terminal 4
  • Air Lanka
  • Air Malta
  • British Airways
  • British Mediterranean
  • Canadian Airlines
  • Kenya Airways
  • KLM
  • Qantas

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