“It was beautiful,” said the first passenger to emerge from the world's newest airport terminal. Dave Litos exited International Arrivals at Heathrow Terminal 2 less than 15 minutes after his United Airlines aircraft had arrived at the stand from Chicago. “I felt welcome.”
United is the first airline to move into the £2.5bn terminal at the heart of Europe's busiest airport; 25 more carriers are to follow. Bob Schumacher, United's UK managing director, described the revived Terminal 2 as “Great for Heathrow, great for London and great for the UK's hub”.
John Holland-Kaye, Heathrow's chief executive-designate, said: “It's just how we imagined it would be.” Mark Schwab, chief executive of the Star Alliance, said: “It's a whole new, different travel experience, minimising the time spent on the formalities. It's to give control of people's time back to them.”
Heathrow's new dawn had begun with a cancelled train. The first rail departure from London Paddington stopped short of its destination because of a strike by Heathrow Express staff. Baffled passengers and airport workers waited in the rain for a delayed bus to complete their journeys.
Anyone fortunate enough to make it to Terminal 2 found Costa Coffee distinctly off-message in its choice of music, with Talking Heads' Road to Nowhere blaring out to passengers and media. But airside, a string quartet was soothing pre-flight nerves with a selection of patriotic tunes including Land of Hope and Glory and Jerusalem.
Terminal 2 has risen not from green and pleasant land, but on the site of Heathrow's original jet-age terminal. It is similar in scale to Terminal 5, but is in the central area, adjacent to Terminals 1 and 3. Airlines will be moving from those terminals to the new facility over the next four months.
Terminal 2's first departure, United Airlines flight 123 to Washington DC, left on time at 7.30am. On board was Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia. But the 47-year-old American had not checked his own website before setting off for the airport.
“I didn't even know I was coming here this morning,” he said as he checked in. “Is it just opening today? It's a beautiful terminal.”
Mr Wales said: “Terminal 5 has been really wonderful for travellers and the perception of the city. If you come into one of the older terminals, you think 'Uh oh, London's a bit run-down,' but here you think 'how modern'.”
Opening day revealed some snags: the payphones in international arrivals were not working, so arriving passengers had to borrow reporters' phones to call friends and family. The strike by Heathrow Express staff halved the normal 15-minute service to both Terminal 4 and Terminal 5. But John Holland-Kaye of Heathrow said: “So far so good. This will massively improve the passenger experience. This gives Britain a global gateway that is world-class.”