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News & Advice

Why transferring at Heathrow for a flight to LA should be hassle-free


Q. I have just purchased a return flight on Virgin Atlantic to Los Angeles (pictured) from Manchester, changing at Heathrow. (The extra cost was just £50, which was superb.) I have just over 90 minutes between flights. I have never used a connecting flight before, so have looked up the process online, only to find a wealth of conflicting information. Can you advise? Andy O'Dwyer, Ilkley, West Yorkshire

A. Relax. Even though your connection involves a change of terminal at Europe's busiest airport, it should be smooth and stress-free.

On Easter Sunday, Virgin Atlantic began its first domestic link, a shuttle service between Heathrow and Manchester; the airline has since added connections from Aberdeen and Edinburgh to London. The flights, branded "Little Red", are aimed at feeding Virgin's long-haul flights from Heathrow – which helps to explain why you have paid such a paltry amount for your additional fare from Manchester. Virgin has laid on the flights in order to compete with British Airways, which previously had a monopoly on the route.

Virgin has sub-contracted Aer Lingus to do the actual flying. The one-hour flight from Manchester arrives at the domestic section of Heathrow Terminal 1. The trouble is: Virgin Atlantic's long-haul network is based at Terminal 3, at the other end of Heathrow's central area. But at the gate of the aircraft, Virgin's international transfer passengers are invited to step aboard a transfer bus from Terminal 1 to 3 that remains "airside". As a result, you need not go through security a second time; the Department for Transport regards Manchester's checks as sufficient.

Before you join the other California-bound passengers at the departure gate for Los Angeles (LAX), you will be able to walk the gauntlet of shops. Any checked-in baggage will be tagged to LAX at the desk in Manchester and transferred automatically at Heathrow (at least in theory).

About 25 minutes after take-off from Heathrow, if you happen to have a window seat on the right-hand side, you will probably be able to see Manchester; BA abandoned its non-stop service from the North-west to Los Angeles as unprofitable, which is why you need to change planes.