Skip to main content

London's Heathrow Airport opens new-look Terminal 2

By Barry Neild for CNN
updated 8:10 AM EDT, Thu June 5, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Heathrow's new Terminal 2 opened June 4 and will gear up to handle up to 20 million passengers per year
  • The terminal features a 78-meter sculpture designed to resemble the turbulence of a tumbling stunt plane
  • Architect Luis Vidal says the terminal is a 'cathedral for the 21st century.'

London, England (CNN) -- London Heathrow's gleaming new passenger terminal has opened to its first passengers in a soft launch designed to avoid the glitches that plagued its last major terminal launch.

CNN had a preview earlier this year of what its chief architect says is a "cathedral for the 21st century" that'll change air travel for good.

Terminal 2, otherwise known as the Queen's Terminal, features vaulted ceilings filled with natural light that are designed to guide up to 20 million passengers a year exactly to where they want to be.

Disappointingly, it still looks like an airport building anywhere in the world.

That's not to say it doesn't have its merits -- as airport buildings go, Queen's Terminal will certainly be among the most pleasant.

It'll also help ease some of the air traffic congestion that has left Heathrow struggling to maintain its former status as Europe's chief aviation hub against rivals serving Amsterdam and Frankfurt.

MORE: U.S. airports are awful. Here's the problem ...

The terminal was first showcased when journalists were invited to the unveiling of a gigantic airborne sculpture of twisting metal.

Chef opens new restaurant at Terminal 2

'Cultural capital'

London Heathrow Airport has unveiled its new Terminal 2, otherwise known as the Queen's Terminal. Artist Richard Wilson says his "Slipstream" artwork inside the terminal's wide atrium shows Britain is the "world's cultural capital." London Heathrow Airport has unveiled its new Terminal 2, otherwise known as the Queen's Terminal. Artist Richard Wilson says his "Slipstream" artwork inside the terminal's wide atrium shows Britain is the "world's cultural capital."
'Slipstream' sculpture
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
>
>>
Heathrow\'s new Terminal 2 Heathrow's new Terminal 2

The 78-meter aluminum work entitled "Slipstream" was created by artist Richard Wilson to fill a wide atrium that passengers will cross when connecting to road and rail networks.

Inspired by the turbulence of a tumbling plane, it hangs from a series of pillars and resembles the riveted fuselage of a muscular vintage aircraft -- and a whale.

"It is a statement that says you've arrived in the cultural capital of the world," says Wilson.

Moving on through the airport, travelers pass through a broad hall filled with rows of security gates and into a huge central atrium that contains the lounge, shopping and dining areas.

There's more sculpture here, although on a less impressive scale -- one artwork resembles a tangle of windshield wipers.

Overhead, the undulating steel-framed roof is illuminated by glass skylights and LEDs that lead architect Luis Vidal says will change color "to accommodate the mood of the passenger."

The lounge is bordered on one side by vast windows that look out onto the airport canopy, with most gates within just a few minutes' walk.

MORE: World's biggest airport planned

"It's a very legible building," says Vidal, who describes his Terminal as a "piazza" to rival London's Covent Garden that will become a destination in its own right.

Soft launch

"Passengers can understand it very easily," says Vidal. "You can see how far you are from your plane, which makes you more relaxed."

The $4.2 billion building is certainly an improvement on the oppressive low ceilings and cramped quarters of the old Terminal 2, which closed five years ago after more than 50 years of service.

It will accommodate 26 airlines, including United, Air Canada, Air New Zealand, Singapore Airlines and others among the global Star Alliance, and connect to more than 50 destinations.

"Nowhere else in the world do you have as many airlines flying to a single airport as you do in London," says Mark Schwab, Star Alliance's CEO.

Heathrow officials hope by easing the new terminal into operation they will lessen the risk of repeating the chaos that engulfed the 2008 launch of the airport's prestigious Terminal 5.

MORE: And the world's busiest airport is ...

The new terminal arrives amid a campaign, led by London mayor Boris Johnson, to close Heathrow and build a new high-capacity airport in a river estuary on the other side of the city.

It's a plan unlikely to derail Heathrow's $18.5 billion long-term plan to remodel the airport along the lines of Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson airport -- the world's busiest.

Holland-Kaye said the Terminal 2 would help alleviate some of the current problems, but officials would still pursue a "politically complex" campaign to build an environmentally controversial third runway.

"We are ready and able and have private money to deliver the hub airport that Britain needs and deserves," he said.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:07 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Where to pay homage to the cutest local celebrities you'll ever stalk.
updated 9:10 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
For air travelers who like to gripe about being cramped in economy, here comes another warning that they've never had it so good.
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Cream cakes from the Ruszwurm bakery in Budapest, Hungary
Proving they're what's really important, the world's best pastry shops have survived survived sieges, revolutions and World War II.
updated 11:50 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Lois Pryce ignored naysayers and traveled 3,000 miles via motorcycle to discover the real Iran.
updated 11:20 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Built at a cost of $442.2 million, Universal Studios Japan hopes its new Potter attraction will bring in $55 billion over 10 years.
updated 10:40 AM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
A scene in Marrakech
The gateway to Morocco's Atlas Mountains is becoming a photographer's paradise -- but capturing it on camera isn't easy.
updated 5:36 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Cathay Pacific was pronounced the world's best airliner of the year at the industry's leading awards ceremony in Farnborough on Tuesday.
updated 4:44 PM EDT, Tue July 15, 2014
Britain has stolen a march in the space race with plans for the world's first spaceport outside the U.S.
updated 10:53 AM EDT, Tue July 15, 2014
In the hunt for the world's best amusement park, the people have spoken -- and it seems the people like mixing with creatures who eat a lot of fish.
updated 2:11 AM EDT, Tue July 15, 2014
An Hellenic Seaplanes aircraft
Seaplane network set to open up far-flung destinations to affordable jet-setting tours.
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon July 14, 2014
A man who took a dangerous selfie during the running of the bulls in Pamplona, with the half-ton beasts right behind him, is still on the run -- but this time from the police.
updated 10:07 PM EDT, Mon July 14, 2014
Its cramped rooms and retro lobby are dated, but its charm and devotion to customers are worth preserving.
updated 1:53 AM EDT, Mon July 14, 2014
A young girl sits on a bench decorated with an image of Paddington Bear.
As part of a scheme to encourage reading, 50 benches designed in the style of popular novels or kids' stories have been scattered around London.
updated 9:01 PM EDT, Fri July 11, 2014
To all the locals who have been hoarding the following beaches, please forgive us.
updated 9:10 AM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Jason Hullinger, a computer security architect in Los Angeles, went to Joshua Tree National Park in December to catch the Geminid meteor shower.
CNN iReporters from across the globe share their incredible images of the skies above us.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT