Don’t Make The Same Mistake I Did With The Heathrow Express

This morning I landed at London Heathrow after sampling Upper Class on Virgin Atlantic’s 787. I spent a couple of hours at the Revivals Lounge (review to come), and decided to make my way to the Heathrow Express, so I could get to Paddington and connect to Bath, where I am now.

While I still made my connection at Paddington with a lot of time to spare, my dad and I made a huge mistake at the platform. Turns out a bunch of people had made the exact same mistake as we had, though I couldn’t find any reports of the same mistake being made online. I figured someone would have to write about it at some point, so here’s my experience with the Heathrow Express (or lack thereof).

London Heathrow Airport

I’m usually one to criticise people for not listening to instructions, so I’ve beat myself up about it all day. Here we go.

It all started at 7:15 AM at Heathrow’s Terminal 3, when we walked leisurely down to the station to catch the 7:33 AM frequency to London Paddington.

DSCF9127Heathrow Airport Terminal 3

We walked underground for around 10 minutes, and got to the station, where we purchased tickets for the Heathrow Express. These tickets granted us access to the paid area of the station, and we made our way to the platform.

A train to “Paddington” was slated to arrive in two minutes, and it arrived at the platform, stopping at the front end. The platform was very long and we were standing at the back end of the platform, so a massive crowd made their way to the train. Thinking it was the Heathrow Express we followed the crowd and got on, and I, in particular, was surprised to see a 2-3 configuration on the train.

At 7:29 AM the captain of the train said “we’re ready to go, the doors will be closing”. I looked out. That’s not right.

Turns out this was the 7:30 AM TfL ex-Heathrow Connect train frequency that operated a six-stop route to Paddington under cheaper fares. The TfL is aimed at workers that work at Heathrow, or people getting to the city at a budget. The train departs every half-hour, on the half-hour (so at 07:00, 07:30, etc.), and the Heathrow Express departs every 15 minutes at the third minute (07:03, 07:18, 07:33, etc.). So if you’re on the hour/mid-hour Heathrow Express frequency, there’s a high chance you’ll make the mistake I made, especially if you’re a first-timer.

The train costs ~£10 (~HK$105) off-peak, whereas the Heathrow Express costs £22 (~HK$230). So we essentially wasted HK$250.

On one hand it’s our fault, since on the platform I heard an announcement that told us to “stay on our platform”. In retrospect, I’m pretty sure the announcement was stating “this is not the Heathrow Express, Heathrow Express users should stay on the platform”. Despite getting some rest on the flight, obviously my brain couldn’t process this until the doors closed. Additionally, I should’ve alarmed myself more with the distinct lack of Heathrow Express branding on the train, the 2-3 configuration, as well as the lack of a first class cabin.

On the other hand:

  • The announcement was extremely unclear, so the station needs to get their speakers fixed
  • It’s ridiculous that both trains to Paddington are on the same platform, and it’s extremely misleading for first-timers like me today (at least 5 people made the same mistake, and everyone I asked was a first-language English speaker, so we have communication issues here beyond the language barrier)
  • The only signage was the “generic” overhead signage at train stations, which signalled that two trains were departing to Heathrow three minutes apart. It was laid out confusingly so I believed one of the given times signalled when the train would arrive and the other signalled when it would depart, as the two trains were listed side by side; little did I know they meant two separate trains that were both going to Paddington

Regardless of whose fault it was, it wasn’t very pleasant to see the Heathrow Express speeding past us at triple speed as we slowed to a stop by West Ealing.

Please tell me you’ve made this exact same mistake at least once before.

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