Heathrow Airport, one of the world’s busiest travel hubs, is no stranger to long security lines. Many a weary traveler has found themselves anxiously eyeing the clock, worried they might miss their flight while stuck in a seemingly endless queue. But now, there’s a glimmer of hope on the horizon, as Heathrow introduces a new way to beat those infamously long security lines – the Heathrow Timeslot service.
This exciting development is currently in the trial phase, set to last for the next six months. And here’s the best part – it won’t cost you a penny. While the service is administered by CLEAR, you won’t need to enroll, submit biometrics, or pay a fee; all you need is a valid e-mail address – preferably one you can readily access on your smartphone.
So, how does it work? Well, it’s surprisingly simple. Passengers can pre-book a designated time and security checkpoint in advance of their arrival at the airport, and receive a QR code via e-mail, granting access to a special line. If you’re familiar with CLEAR Reserve, the Timeslot platform appears to be a re-branded version of that, and the booking process should feel very familiar. The trial is currently limited to Terminal 3, available only to passengers flying with American Airlines, Delta, Emirates, and Virgin Atlantic. If the trial proves successful, it may expand to include more airlines during the testing period.
It’s unclear if this service is available for connecting passengers using the transit security checkpoint, but given past fast-track programs and the layout of the T3 transit facility, I’d bet the answer is likely a no. However, most European and American passport holders can simply enter the UK via the border e-gates and take one of the local trains (Heathrow Express, Elizabeth Line, or Piccadilly Line) at no charge over to Heathrow Central – some claim that if you’re eligible to use the e-gates, it’s faster to clear passport control and take local transit than to wait for the shuttle buses that operate outside of customs. Bear in mind your connection may not be protected while you’re landside, so if you’re cutting it really close, it may be best to stay airside to ensure no issues rebooking.
Here’s another convenient feature of the Timeslot service – you can book for up to five people at once, great for families or groups of friends traveling together (it’s unclear if you must all be on the same PNR, but experience suggests they won’t check). Keep in mind that these slots are subject to availability, so it’s a good idea to book ahead to secure your preferred time.
Now, for those of you who are feeling left out, there’s some promising news. If the trial succeeds, the Timeslot service will be rolled out to additional terminals at Heathrow. As someone who frequents Terminal 5, the home of British Airways, I can’t help but hope that this service will soon be available there too.
However, even with the convenience of pre-booking, Heathrow Airport advises travelers to give themselves more than 45 minutes before departure to pass through security. Why? Well, Heathrow operates under the UK’s somewhat infamous “conformance” scheme; at 35 minutes prior to departure, you won’t be able to pass through the turnstiles to enter the security checkpoint. So, while Timeslot can save you time, don’t cut it too close – arrive when you normally would, and use the extra time to visit one of T3’s many lounges.
This concept of pre-booking time slots for security isn’t entirely new to European airports. Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS) has been operating a similar scheme (also by CLEAR), and I recently had the chance to try it out during a trip. I must say, it worked quite well, but the security lines were so efficiently managed that it almost felt unnecessary. Still, it’s a handy option to have, and I imagine it will be a much bigger game-changer at Heathrow where the lines aren’t as well-managed.
For many U.S. travelers accustomed to TSA PreCheck, the Heathrow Timeslot service will feel like a long-awaited dream come true. While you’ll still need to remove laptops and liquids from your bag, being able to skip the line is a game-changer. PreCheck is one of those things (like air conditioning and ice in drinks) that I always miss while abroad, so any opportunity to fast-track the security process at a major foreign hub is welcome news.
So, if you find yourself headed to Heathrow in the coming months, consider giving the Timeslot service a try. It’s a promising step towards a smoother and less stressful airport experience, and who can say no to that?