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Airport Tips: Heathrow With A 3-Year-Old

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How much would love to avoid the scene up above when traversing an airport with kids? As soon as we landed at London’s crazy busy Heathrow I asked at the airport information desk where I could find a play area for my 3 year-old. The staffer told me there weren’t any in the airport. This isn’t true and it demonstrates just how hard it can be to get good information about family amenities at airports.

central waiting area at Terminal 3, HeathrowOn the way to our gate in Terminal 3 we found a 20-by-20 play area with a small slide/climbing structure, a giant Connect 4 game, and small table with a staffer to help with quick art projects. We delayed heading to the gate as long as we could to let Tiny Traveler play. But I wish we’d found it sooner. Prior to boarding a six-hour flight I would have happily foregone window-shopping at the Duty Free to give her more run-around time (especially since my husband refused to indulge my interest in royal wedding commemorative tea tins) Here’s what I’ve learned about getting around Heathrow with kids.

Transit Time

Each time you change terminals at Heathrow you have to pass through security as well as hop on a shuttle bus or train. During peak times like early morning this can take more than two hours and I’ve never done it in less than 45 minutes, so I highly recommend sticking to the amenities in your departure terminal. I also recommend a stroller for under-5s and a carrier for babies as transferring can involve a fair amount of walking.

Playing and Resting

There are a few play areas in the airport, primarily suited to the under-6 set. The catch is that they tend to be toward the gates and away from the central shopping/waiting areas. Look for signs about them as you come through security. If you are in Terminals 1, 3 or 5 keep asking airport personnel until someone can point you to one.

Terminal 3 is where most US-bound flights leave from. It has the play area I discovered, toward the gates just beyond the Caviar House and Gucci.

In the central waiting area, near Boots, there’s a small play station with 2 computer games and a couple of stationary toys. It’s not great but it will keep a toddler or preschooler occupied for 10 or 20 minutes if your spouse is willing to cool his or her heels while you shop.

T3 also has the new No.1 Traveler Lounge that offers a colorful family room with toys. It has games like foosball for older kids, too. There are bedrooms with showers if you have a long enough layover to catch a nap or you really need to make everyone just a little less sticky. Figure on $60 for one adult and one child—not far cheap but far less than a hotel would cost for longer layovers.

Terminal 5 is where most intra-Europe flights leave from. It has several play spaces, including some for kids up to age 8.

T5 is the most newly renovated terminal and it’s spiffier and has better shopping and restaurants than the others. Giraffe is a good bet for reasonably healthy, reasonably quick (and reasonably good) sit-down eating.

Terminal 1 has a play area, too, for kids six and under. But I couldn’t find out much about it.

Staying Up To Date

Heathrow is undergoing a lot of construction and updating so things change. Before heading out, check the airport’s website to see what’s new. And check with your airline for its lounge offerings.

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