In praise of Heathrow queues

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.

Queues at UK airports are attracting plenty of headlines, almost solely for negative reasons and most linked to staff shortages in key departments such as check-in and immigration.

I’m going to take a different tack and actually celebrate the queues I witnessed at London Heathrow Airport Terminal 2, The Queen’s Terminal, on Monday.

Who was that masked man? Answer: Pretty much the only one in the whole terminal.

On my last visit to the UK in July 2021, Heathrow’s food & beverage offering was a sorry sight, with only a smattering of outlets open and passenger numbers at an abysmally low ebb.

So it was encouraging to see expectant customers queued up outside the excellent Leon and plenty more inside; Pret A Manger as packed with passengers as one of its Hoison duck wraps is with ingredients; Wondertree, closed for so long, now full of family diners; and plenty of punters knocking back early morning pints as well as some good pub food at London’s Pride Pub & Kitchen.

No-one (not even, whatever they say, the Brits) much likes being in a queue, but at least they reflect demand. And demand is what Heathrow Airport and its food & beverage operators and retailers, starved of customers for so long during the pandemic, desperately need.

Fearing the worst in terms of check-in and security delays, I arrived unusually early for my flight. I need not have worried with both areas busy but any wait manageable. So I had plenty of time to walk the terminal. Here are my 12 talking points. The world tour, now on day 51, continues. Next stop Geneva.

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1. The Bookshop by WHSmith

No fancy name required. The shop sells books. A wonderfully diverse range of books. Including some of the greatest titles in the English language on a very good ‘Buy 1, get 1 half price’ offer.

I duly bought One Hundred Years of Solitude, the 1967 novel by Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez described by Satanic Verses author Salman Rushdie as “the greatest novel in any language of the last fifty years” (can it really be better than one of my all-time favourites, the magnificent Love in the time of cholera?) and Three Bedrooms in Manhattan, one of Georges Simenon’s acclaimed  ‘romans durs’ (‘hard novels’). Quality reading guaranteed for the rest of my world tour.

2. InMotion (also owned by WHSmith)

What a store. Where Dixons once reigned, InMotion is now Heathrow’s king of consumer technology and accessories. What a striking exterior and the product range inside is every bit as compelling.

3. Sipsmith serves up a treat

Summer began today, which means Wimbledon is just around the corner and this exhilirating Sipsmith gin promotion is an appropriately smash hit. Guaranteed solid net returns.

4. Walkers’ regal touch

Is this the most under-rated brand in travel retail? Wherever Walkers shortbread is listed, it sells strongly. This Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Tin is certain to be a blockbuster success.

5. Johnnie Walker

Class. Sheer class. The famous striding man is presented in sumptuous style.

6. Sad and soulless 

And now for something completely different… thanks to prevailing UK regulations, visiting the World Duty Free tobacco department is like stepping into some illicit prohibition-era speakeasy
The loneliness of the long-distance smoker. Why should a wonderfully innovative product such as IQOS, which aims to convert cigarette smokers to a much safer alternative, have to be locked away in this dungeon?
Those of a queasy disposition look away now. Hard to know whether the ‘please keep your distance’ message on the floor refers to COVID considerations or it is protecting consumers from the house of horrors imagery on full graphic display?

7. The human(less) factor

To misquote the old Pete Seeger folk song, where have all the check-out staff gone? Long time passing…
… Gone to self check-outs every one. Perhaps understandably, the assistant by the machines that almost no-one seemed able to work took one look at me and verified my modest wine purchase without needing to see ID. Damn. And here was me thinking perhaps an inbuilt camera took me for under 18.

8. How time marches on

I take great pleasure every time I see a Rolex store in an airport. That’s because I am old enough to remember the days when the great Swiss watch brand avoided the channel as if was the cheapest of street markets. As with Louis Vuitton, that has all changed, much to the benefit of the brand and airport retail as a whole.

9. Smythson’s understated style

For a long-time Heathrow traveller such as me, Smythson is both an institution and a delight. And I simply love the look and allure of the T2 store.

11. Burberry

Almost an ode to Britishness, evoking both heritage and contemporary flair. Lovely.

11. A disappointing journey of discovery

The concept of bringing together a host of top British brands, from Barbour to Cath Kidston to Sara Miller London and many more is a nice one. But the end result lacks impact, looks confused and (significantly) less than premium. The brands deserve better. Perhaps this is work in progress (or a temporary store?) but if so that work needs to continue.

12. Toying with airport retail

The Regent Street flagship may make the claim of being the finest toyshop in the world but the description just doesn’t stand up for this albino-pale version of the original. Yes, I know the space is small but gosh it could look so much better.

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