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Heathrow Gets Olympic Visitors Home

Games Terminal at Heathrow AirportThe thousands of Olympic athletes, officials and spectators leaving London from Heathrow Airport had a near perfect travel experience on Monday as they began their journey home. The athletes were able to check in at a special temporary terminal designed to look like a London park – with a model double-decker at one end of the terminal. To make the terminal look like a park, the airport added plants, trees and park benches. The setup is the size of three Olympic swimming pools and has 31 check-in desks and security points.

Heathrow staff are faced with some of their busiest days as people fly home from London, with about 6,000 athletes and about 9,000 others involved in the Games leaving from the airport. The number of people leaving the country from the hub is expected to get near the record 123,000 passengers who departed on July 29 last year.

Airport owner BAA says baggage handling would be its main challenge, as athletes were expected to leave with three or more bags each – including sports equipment. To cope with this, athletes due to depart with more than three bags were able to check their luggage in at the Olympic Village over the weekend. The bags were then driven to the airport to go through the luggage system overnight.

BAA chief executive Colin Matthews says the airport is proud of its role in making the Games a success. They hope the athletes, officials and spectators enjoyed a great welcome to the capital. Games departures will create a new challenge, he noted, with new facilities like the special terminal being used for the first time. They have been getting ready for this for seven years, he added, with the aim of delivering a farewell the whole nation can be proud of.

On Monday, the athletes arrived at Heathrow by coach and were treated to a special send-off. No planes were flying from the terminal, rather the athletes were coached to their final departure point. The farewell included the athletes being clapped into each terminal by a guard of honour consisting of Heathrow volunteers. Before leaving the Games terminal, however, the athletes were encouraged to write down their favourite moments of the events and pin them to the branches on one of the terminal’s trees.

Matthews said that they wanted to give the athletes a good send-off. The enthusiasm of their volunteers and staff has been infectious, he added, and they wanted to build on that. The Games terminal is going to decommissioned this week, after being in operation for just three days. The site will then be turned back into a staff car park.

Meanwhile, more big farewells erupted in other places where Olympic athletes were travelling to get back home. French and Dutch athletes at St Pancras rail station brought a celebratory atmosphere with them, while tribute band the Beatlez kept them entertained. The athletes praised a ‘perfect’ games as they boarded Eurostar services.

Gatwick Airport, the second largest in London, was also expecting a rush of extra passengers on Monday. It drafted extra workers to help with the rise in departures, while its challenge has been dealing with the large sizes and numbers of bags the athletes are expected to travel with.

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