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London’s Heathrow airport will today grapple with its biggest-ever surge in outbound passengers as 15,000 Olympic athletes, officials, sponsors and dignitaries join the summer crowds following last night’s closing ceremony.
Europe’s busiest hub is braced to handle about 116,000 departures, or 21,000 more than the usual peak-season average, according to owner BAA Ltd. London’s subway and the Heathrow Express rail service are also forecasting increased traffic.
Competitors will be able to check in their bags before leaving the Olympic Village, and on arrival at Heathrow will use a special games terminal with 31 desks and seven security lanes. About 6,000 people will pass through the temporary site today and 8,000 in total before it closes on Aug. 15, BAA reckons.
“We’ve had really favorable feedback from athletes and officials on the arrivals process, but departures is a completely different challenge,” BAA spokesman Simon Baugh said. “We’re using new systems, so it’s more complex.”
Athletes will travel by bus via so-called Games Lanes to the dedicated terminal, built on a car park near Heathrow’s Terminal 4 as part of a 20 million-pound ($31 million) investment in games-related infrastructure, according to BAA.
The Games Lanes, which operate between 6 a.m. and midnight, will remain in place until the middle of the week, speeding journeys for accredited members of the “Olympic family” but limiting the choice of road for ordinarily drivers. Restricted routes include the M4 motorway near Heathrow.
People should check the Get Ahead of the Games website to avoid travel disruption, according to Transport for London.
“Some visitors may stay on for the Paralympics, but generally it will be exceptionally busy, so we recommend that people plan well ahead, work out their route and give themselves time,” TfL spokeswoman Shagufta Hailes said.
The Heathrow Express train service, which provides a high- speed link from Paddington station every 15 minutes, operates at 65 percent of capacity, leaving sufficient spare seating to cope with extra demand, spokeswoman Julia Gillam said, adding that Games Lanes will in any case carry most of the Olympic family.
Heathrow airport will maximize staffing levels today and draft in volunteers to help deal with the rush, as it did during the run-up to the games.
BAA had initially forecast that 130,000 people would depart today. With a further 108,000 expected to fly in, that would have totaled 238,000 passengers for the 24 hours, 5,000 more than the current record set on July 31 last year.
Heathrow’s Windsor Suite will be busy with VIP departures, Baugh said. Passengers are taken by car to the lounge, located at the British Airways-dominated Terminal 5, with most departing on scheduled flights since the airport generally lacks the spare capacity to accommodate business-jet and charter operations.
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