In Memoriam: LHR Terminal 1 and The Great British Lounge

In just a week, London Heathrow Terminal 1 will close, permanently.

On June 29th, British Airways flight 970 to Hannover, Germany (HAJ) is scheduled to depart at 9:15 p.m., after which Terminal 1 will officially be off limits to the public. It’s likely to be an eerie experience for BA 970 passengers, as Terminal 1 is already a shadow of its former self — only a handful of short-haul BA flights are still departing from the sprawling facility, with just a few stores still open airside.

Let’s be nostalgic, shall we? Here’s a bit of history, with a focus on lounges of course!

The LHR Terminal 1 story

Terminal 1 opened in 1968, ahead of its official inauguration by Queen Elizabeth II in may 1969. It was designed to serve short-haul, intra-European flights, and primarily catered to narrow body aircraft, at a time when security and logistics were a much more simple affair.

The story of Terminal 1 is one of constant, seemingly reckless growth, and perpetual adjustments to make it support the demands of modern aviation. In the 1990s, a new pier was built to increase overall capacity and serve wide body aircraft. In 2005, another extension was slapped on, along with improvements to the main departure area and retail spaces. Throughout, passengers endured perpetual construction, and constant shifts in layout, gates, destinations and airlines served. Initially monolithic, Terminal 1 was early retrofitted to separate international arrivals from departures. Later, special channels were added for Schengen, non-Schengen and Ireland bound passengers.

London Heathrow Terminal 1, UggBoy♥UggGirl photography, Flickr, reused under the terms of the CC BY 2.0 license.

London Heathrow Terminal 1, UggBoy♥UggGirl photography, Flickr, reused under the terms of the CC BY 2.0 license.

Over time, Terminal 1 has seen very diverse traffic, from short-haul flights to inter-continental service. BMI (British Midland International) used to be one of the primary tenants, until their merger with British Airways, which expanded the flag carrier’s footprint to Terminals 1, 3, and 5. For a few years, a number of Star Alliance carriers called Terminal 1 home (incidentally, BMI was itself a Star Alliance member at the time), although the alliance never fully consolidated its operations, and the United/Continental merger added to the complexity with former Continental flights continuing to operate out of Terminal 4 while legacy United flights departed from Terminal 1. In 2014, in anticipation of the closure of Terminal 1, all Star Alliance members (except for newcomer Air India) moved under one roof to Terminal 2, “The Queen’s Terminal”, while British Airways has largely consolidated operations around Terminal 5.


From a passenger experience standpoint, perhaps Terminal 1 epitomized everything that was “wrong” with London Heathrow. With an endless maze of narrow hallways and retro-futuristic tubular connectors, tiny gate areas, confusing way finding, ominous signs indicating a 20 minute walking time to gates (sometimes minutes ahead of boarding time), and a horrendous intra-terminal bus transfer facility, it was the bane of business travelers and a terrifying place for less experienced flyers.

London Heathrow Terminal 1, UggBoy♥UggGirl photography, Flickr, reused under the terms of the CC BY 2.0 license.

London Heathrow Terminal 1, UggBoy♥UggGirl photography, Flickr, reused under the terms of the CC BY 2.0 license.

But there were of course a few enjoyable touches for premium and frequent travelers. British Midland (BMI) used to offer a premium checkin area – a private and partitioned off section, which while pretty basic overall, truly stood out at the center of the hectic checkin area. The terminal also offered several lounges, though they varied widely in quality, and the gates were often far away.

The LHR Terminal 1 lounges

Star Alliance opened one of their first shared lounges at London Heathrow Terminal 1. While the move was innovative, it was mostly driven by cost cutting, and the design – dark and depressing – missed the mark. On the flip side, the Star Alliance Arrivals lounge was a treat. Designed for passengers arriving early in London, it provided them with an opportunity to freshen up and enjoy a hot breakfast. There are no less than two equivalent facilities at Terminal 2: a United Arrivals Lounge, plus a Plaza Premium Arrivals Lounge open to all travelers, regarding of class of service or airline, for a fee. As for departure lounges, with the opening of Terminal 2, individual airlines are once again operating their own lounges, and the Queen’s Terminal boasts a whopping seven superior business and first class lounges.


Star Alliance Business Class Lounge – London Heathrow Terminal 1 (LHR)


Star Alliance Arrivals Lounge – London Heathrow Terminal 1 (LHR)

Ex-British Midland (BMI) built a superb club dubbed The Great British Lounge. With a gorgeous and posh lobby, a warm and cozy design, a generous buffet featuring hot food, a living room-like space complete with a fireplace, an elegant board room, recliners overlooking the runway, and a bar aptly called “The Local”, the lounge was designed to showcase the best of England, with a twist of humor. It was a complete overkill for the short flights served by BMI, and needless to say, wildly popular amongst travelers. Perhaps this over the top article on says it all.

With BMI a member of Star Alliance at the time, smart travelers were quick to learn to make the trek to The Great British Lounge instead of visiting the pretty drab Star Alliance Lounge. Until 2012, though, when the party abruptly stopped, as British Airways took over BMI and the club became off limits to Star Alliance passengers, to the joy of oneworld customers. British Airways thankfully preserved the lounge  with hardly any changes, except for its name: in a truly stunning display of imagination and creativity, The Great British Lounge became the British Airways International Lounge… as opposed to, you know, the British Airways UK and Ireland Lounge, also in Terminal 1, and a much more utilitarian space. We can’t say we’ll miss Terminal 1, but we’ll be eternally fond of the Great British Lounge (and don’t call it by that other name, please.)


British Airways International Lounge, formerly known as BMI’s Great British Lounge – London Heathrow Terminal 1 (LHR)

In conclusion

So, Terminal 1 is closing. Or is it? In fact, portions of the facility are surviving. At this time, the shiny new Terminal 2 doesn’t have its own baggage system and continues to use the Terminal 1 machinery — the Terminal 2A building is too shallow for an underground bag processing system because of the rail lines underneath, and while Terminal 2B has a suitable spacious basement, it hasn’t been built out yet. Also, some of the space currently used by Terminal 1 will be used to expand Terminal 2. A few newer Terminal 1 gates are even surviving thanks to a direct airside connection from Terminal 2.

For passengers, the closure is a page turned and good news all around. But for the nostalgic out there, here’s a picture tour of some of the defunct Terminal 1 lounges: the Star Alliance Lounge, Star Alliance Arrivals Lounge, and the oh-so-loved British Airways International Lounge (former BMI Great British Lounge), which we wish would inspire British Airways going forward.

Excited? Nostalgic? Share your experiences about LHR Terminal 1 in the comments section below. And if you’re flying out of T1 this week, we’d love to hear from you!

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