Fascinating article on the forgotten West London Air Terminal

A HFP reader sent me a link yesterday to a truly fascinating article on the West London Air Terminal.

If you have ever driven from London to Heathrow, you will have passed a huge Sainsburys supermarket on your right, close to the large Marriott hotel on your left.  There is a large block of flats built over it and an odd ramp leading up to them.

This was, I was surprised to learn, the West London Air Terminal.


To quote:

In the period after the war Heathrow was in the ascendant so the search was on for a site in West London. The airport authorities settled on an area in Kensington already occupied by another form of transport: the Cromwell Curve where the District and Circle lines came together and tube trains from Gloucester Road, High Street Kensington and Earls Court passed each other. It was decided to build a concrete raft over the train lines and construct the new terminal above them.



The idea …… was that you checked in for your flight here and then you and your luggage were transported to Heathrow in special airline buses. ….  The Cromwell Road location, a short convenient distance up the road from Gloucester Road Station meant that when the time came to fly you could put on your sheepskin coat, walk down some stairs, put your case in the coach and be on your way.

It is a fantastic article with lots of great period photographs.  When you get a few minutes today I strongly recommend reading the full piece here.

This is what the building looks like today.  It is hard to imagine it was once an airport terminal.

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  1. An OMG moment for me – that’s the building I always stay in on London visits – who wants to stay in a grotty Paddington B&B when for the same price you can rent a proper flat. OK no Avios so maybe not most HfP readers 😉

  2. Went to many a great party there when it was the HQ for BEA.

    BOAC had their Terminal in Buckingham Palace Road (now the HQ of the Audit Office) and Pan Am just round the corner in Semley Place. All providing check in and coaches to Heathrow in the days when the Tube only went as far as Hounslow West.

    • I thought that was the case forBOAC and the west London terminal was used by BEA The BOAC has a wonderful frontage having been built for Imperial Airways. Do correct me if I am wrong

  3. ………..and many HfP readers may remember the British Airways Victoria Terminal which served Gatwick airport until well into the 90’s. It was situated upstairs in what is now the Victoria Place Shopping Centre. Passengers could check in and leave their luggage and collect boarding passes (no on-line check-in in those days) before travelling to the airport on the Gatwick Express. Luggage next seen at their destination. As wheely luggage was a rarity in those days, it was a most useful facility..

    • You can still check in at the city terminal in Hong Kong, is fantastic. I’ve always wondered why it’s not repeated at many other airports – cynically I’m guessing the current setup means more time for passengers airside and hence revenue for the airside retailers (and rental income for the airports).

      • Probably because it’s an expensive complication that ultimately would not really positively impact on either an airport’s or airline’s bottom line. Would a central London check-in/ bag drop be enough to make many people switch from one airport or airline to another? Some, possibly. But it would have to be hundreds of thousands making the switch to justify the extra cost of a ‘critical mass’ sized unit.

        City states like HK (or Singapore) are different.

        • Although I’d love to be able to drop my bags in Central London before heading out to Heathrow, I’d guess there would be a load of passengers who did this and then managed to miss their plane due to hanging around shopping and not getting to the airport on time. At least if passengers and luggage arrive at the airport together, there are fewer missed flights and fewer opportunities for security problems from unaccompanied luggage.

        • More likely to do with security these days

          • I remember the BA check in at Victoria as I lived in Pimlico.

            I was very peeved one day to find Princess Margaret’s ex husband trying to check in 20 pus bags and fully expecting an upgrade to first when having purchased a simple economy ticket.

            At the time I was flying economy and was staggered at the inequality and expectations of the establishment.

      • It’s like Harry says, there’s no money unit for anyone to do it so why have the hassle.

        It’s a lesson to learn from HK, the government should be mandating airport owners to provide good road (Bristol airport?) and rail (try getting to LHR from the west) links and capping prices.

        The “HK express” costs about £6 on the day while Heathrow ex is about £20. Both journey through expensive urban terrain.

        I’m hard capitalist but what’s going on at Heathrow (and otherUK airports) is not a market.

        LHR needs bulldozing, it’s a disgrace to navigate esp if you need to switch terminals or catch a bus.

        • If you travel between Bristol and LHR you may be interested to know there is a direct national express coach which is dirt cheap and i find it excellent. I sometimes take this route if i am travelling elsewhere in London.

          • william merrett says:

            I’m Cheltenham based and do sometimes take the National express. It’s just slow and inconvenient, the Chelt bus usually leaves every 2 hours and drops at the bus station. I’m almost always out of T5 which can take up to 25 minutes from the bus station to T5 if you get unlucky with the HEX connection, you can then add another 15 minutes to that if you then end up at a T5C gate. the Nat Ex is also £40 return from Cheltenham.

            I can drive for £15 of fuel, get there 30 mins quicker than the bus and drop straight into pod parking and be at security 5 minutes after getting out of the car.

            What you should be able to do is get a train into LHR from the west, and then be able to traverse terminals at worst every 5 mins.

            JFK is horrendous airport to transfer through, but at least the airtrain runs very frequently, I’ve never had to wait more than 5 minutes for one when I’ve been there.

            I could keep going on with LHR, eg getting off the first HKG-LHR flight of the day being the first landing, dropping into T5C and then being told the train to connect to immigration isn’t running yet and then when the train finally turns up it doesn’t have enough capacity to deal with the passenger load from an A380, then you have the queues for the lifts to get down the that train.

            I could put up with most of that out of an old terminal, but it should be state of the art.

            • I’ve never experienced the T5 train not running when coming off the HKG A380. Most people take the escalators, there aren’t usually queues for the lifts…. You must be very unlucky.

        • lol. The HK Airport Express only costs £6 if you are living in Gordon Brown’s boom days.

          The in-town check-in is just a gimmick to make people use the overpriced train, rather than paying less than half-price for other modes of public transport. Obviously it seems cheap for someone who pays European prices.

          The HK government makes money from land banking and having cushy deals with developers. In HK real estate is only valuable because trains go there – but obviously seems expensive even for someone who pays outer London rents.

        • Good news:
          [Improving rail links to Heathrow
          A new direct rail link connecting the west to Heathrow will improve journeys to the UK’s busiest airport]

          From the west you would change at Reading for a direct connection to LHR.

          Bad news: 2024

  4. Boom! They could have done some advanced notice.

    BA needs revenue…

  5. The Marriott in Cromwell Road was originally a Cunard Hotel. I think the London International. They had the interesting concept of an airport hotel in the centre of London specifically to make use of the terminal. They also built a larger hotel in Hammersmith next to the flyover with the ground floor reserved (but never used) for airline check in desks. This was the Cunard International with a shipping theme but is now the Novotel. Unfortunately for Cunard, the concept died as transport links improved and the capacity of the airport terminals was increased.

  6. My parents met each other when they worked for BA in that building. Mum left BA when I came along.

    There was another lady I worked with in JAX who also started her BA career there.

  7. Remember flying from here many times. There was also a North London terminal on the Finchley Road and I remember lots of Courtline check-in desks

  8. Good spot any idea how long bonus running for? Waiting for pending to become payable.

  9. Even the buses to the airport were special.
    The iconic London Routemaster was modified into the RMA (the A is for airport) a shorter version with a faster engine and front doors and stairs.

    • Having grown up near the Great West Road, we used to see the buses from the WLAT frequently. TBH I do not recal the RMA at all, but vividly remeber the earlier BEA buses which, for some reason, were one-and-a-half deckers – double deck at the rear, single deck at the front.

      • I remember that some of the buses (BEA ones I think) towed a trailer containing the luggage. My grandfather was a bus driver, and I remember him explaining that the union were fighting for higher pay for towing the trailer – her was a real leftie!

  10. Wow, fascinating, thank you. I use the David Lloyd centre in this building and always wondered about its past. Thanks.

  11. My first job after leaving college in 1980 was working for BA at the West London Terminal. Apart from the passenger check-in / transfer facility, this was also BA’s UK base for flight telephone reservations (where I worked) booking of BA package holidays, trade sales (dealing with travel agents), and customer service (the department had the quaint name of ‘Correspondence’). The accommodation tower block you see today were all office space and the Sainsbury’s is where all the coaches would park. It was a fantastic place to work.

  12. James Alexander says:

    Fascinating article, thanks for posting the link. I worked in the D Lloyd gym in the first years of this millennium and was always fascinated by the “over-cladding” and ramps up from the Sainsbury ! At that time the apartments above had many American business people and their families – many moved out (recalled to USA?) after 9/11.
    So interesting to see how air travel impacted on so many areas of urban life.

  13. Lady London says:

    IIRC in its later years the West London Air Terminal, like the North London Air Terminal (?) on Finchley Road, was used heavily by charter airlines which grew from strength to strength on the new package holidays people took to places like Spain.

    Am I right in thinking what pretty much finished WLAT off was one of these operators, Clarksons, which went bust?

  14. Explains why the bonus was so high on small amount I transferred a few days ago

    at 25% bonus could be worth doing some more into avois

  15. Brought back some really old memories. Was just reminiscing about it recently when we stayed nearby in London.
    It worked really well, plenty of pubs and restaurants nearby to eat before heading home.
    Thanks for this.

  16. Remember checking in there with my parents in the 70s.

    Don’t remember the BEA buses at Gloucester Road Air Terminal, but as a child in Liverpool there were also special airport buses running to Speke. The upstairs area at the back was because downstairs at the back was the luggage compartment. I think these may have been the same design as the BEA buses.

    The Airlines used to have a high profile in Central London. AA also had check in facilities at Victoria on the Gatwick Express platform, and in the 70s all the airlines had ticket offices in Piccadilly and Regent Street. I remember buying my first solo ticket from TWA in Piccadilly.

  17. I was very young when we lived in west London but I remember going to the West London Air Terminal a couple of times to meet Irish relatives who were going back home from there. The buses they used were quite distinctive, grey coloured with a sort of half upper deck arrangement. They were later replaced by Routemasters, I believe, but this was back in the 1950s. I could be wrong but I got the impression you had to travel on a dedicated bus for the particular flight you were on and all the checked-in baggage for that flight travelled on that bus.

  18. Thanks for that. I’ve got £30 sitting in my TCB account at the moment. I value Avios at 2/3rds of a penny, but collecting opportunities seem to be getting harder. I may be tempted to buy some at 0.8p to boost my balance

  19. I lived over the road from this building for 3 years and never knew it was an air terminal! Used to shop at the sainsburys every week! Shame I ddidn’t realise nectar points expired so I lost them all :-(

    • Why wouldn’t you just spend them as soon as you get to 500?

      You’re like one of the Imperial students I lived next to in his last year. He ended up with about 20000 nectar points, but never spent any and accidentally packed his card in the boxes he shipped back to Singapore, so nectar was a complete waste of time for him.

      • I was an Imperial student! We are talking over 10 years ago now though, way before I became a points nerd!

  20. London, London, London. I voted for London to leave the UK. It does not belong.

    Balance please.

  21. I believe the BEA terminal on Cromwell Road opened in 1957, and replaced an earlier and short-lived central London terminal at Waterloo, which for a short period had helicopter transfers! More here – http://alondoninheritance.com/london-transport/the-waterloo-air-terminal/

  22. The terminal features in the film BEA “Clear to Land” including footage of the booking call centre with state of the art 1968 computers.

    The whole film is worth a watch