Heathrow is the fifth busiest airport in the world. It averages about 1,300 flights a day departing or arriving, and more than 75 million passengers every year find their way to and from those planes.
Arrival at Heathrow usually means you arrive with jet lag. Flights are arriving from America, the middle East, Australia and New Zealand, and Asia. There are long corridors to walk from the plane, and the British had conveniently placed bathrooms along the way.
As you walk from your plane, it’s not unusual to see some passengers moving as fast as possible. Their goal is to arrive at UK Border Control before everyone else does. Lines can be long, unless you’ve flown business or first class and get a card for expedited entry. The difference in waiting in line can be an hour or more. There are also different sections depending upon you nationality – UK residents, EU residents (that may change with Brexit), and everyone else.
The Border Control agent asks your purpose in visiting the UK, where you’ll be staying, and sometimes if you’ve brought any farm products with you. Once he stamps your passport, you head for baggage claim (there’s more bathrooms there, too). The waits for bags aren’t usually too long; your baggage is unloaded while you wait in line at Border Control.
Once you have your bags, you follow the signs to Customs, which had two signs – nothing to declare and something to declare. Most people have nothing to declare and walk right through Customs. The agents have the right to stop you and do a search, but I’ve never personally experienced that nor have I seen it happen to others.
You exit Customs and go through the Duty-Free Shop and then find yourself inside the terminal. The diversity of people can be staggering; you can and will see all kinds of dress and hear all kinds of languages. Follow the signs to ground transportation bus, cars, taxis, and tube. The Piccadilly Underground line will take you all the way into central London; a taxi will cost about $120, including tip. If there’s a line of people already waiting for a taxi, join it at the end; the British don’t like queue breakers and it’s acceptable to be extremely rude and abusive to anyone who breaks in line.
Michael and Sarah Kent-Hughes and their boys fly commercial – British Airways – to London from San Francisco, which is not the usual way royals travel. (Michael explains why in the book.) And upon arrival at Heathrow, they walk with the other passengers to UK Border Control, again at Michael’s insistence.
From Heathrow, the Kent-Hughes family travel the A4 highway east into central London. The road typically gets increasingly congested the closer you get into the city. The A4 becomes Cromwell Road, and right as you reach the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Brompton Oratory next door, Cromwell Road merges into Brompton Road. A few blocks later, you pass Harrods department store and then Brompton Road reaches and ends in Knightsbridge Road, right near Hyde Park. Michael, Sarah, and the family travel this way on Knightsbridge, pass right by Hyde Park Corner and Apsley House (home of the Duke of Wellington), and then turn right at the Wellington Arch and then take an almost immediate left on to Constitution Hill. It’s here that Michael points out the wall to his two adopted sons, Jason and Jim. He calls it the wall of their new back yard.
The family travels down Constitution Hill and turns right in front of Buckingham Palace, and then through the first set of entry gates. This area is a central location of the city – the palace, the Victoria Memorial directly across from the palace, Green Park, St. James’s Park, The Mall (the street that leads from the palace to Trafalgar Square), and Birdcage Walk (the street between St. James’s Park and Wellington Barracks, which has a rather nifty Guards Museum and gift shop, and leads right to Whitehall and Parliament Square).