NEWS
13/08/2012 02:56 BST | Updated 13/08/2012 05:25 BST

London 2012: Heathrow Opens Games Terminal To Deal With Athletes' Olympic Exodus

Heathrow is braced for one of its busiest days in history, opening a new terminal to deal with the challenge of getting thousands of Olympic athletes away on their flights home.

David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg are joining the mass exodus from Britain, as the leaders of the three parties jet off on holiday post-Olympics.

The competitors will be among 116,000 people who will depart from Heathrow, making it one of the west London airport's busiest-ever days.

Heathrow is braced for one of its busiest day - since the athletes arrived

This compares with around 95,000 who would be departing on a normal day and is not far behind the record of 123,000 departing passengers set on July 29 last year.

Around 6,000 athletes were able to check their bags through at the Olympic Village in east London last night.

They will leave Heathrow today with around 9,000 other Olympics-related passengers.

special Games terminal at Heathrow airport was made to resemble a London park today to give Olympic athletes a good send off after the ending of the Games.

Plants, park benches and trees were on display at the terminal in west London as the first of around 6,000 athletes arrived for flights home.

The walls of the special terminal displayed London's skyline and the park is filled with iconic London designs such as the red telephone box and the double-decker Routemaster red bus.

Some Heathrow staff were dressed like park wardens for the day and a bearskin guard was stationed at ticket presentation.

Athletes were invited to record their favourite memory of the Games and hang it on a tree which will be displayed at Heathrow.

The athletes will have their own specially-constructed Games terminal, which is the size of three Olympic swimming pools. It has 31 check-in desks and seven security lanes.

Athletes are expected to depart with more than three bags per person, including outsize sporting equipment.

They will arrive by coach and be treated to a special London-themed send-off, the details of which Heathrow operator BAA is keeping a closely-guarded secret.

Athletes will be clapped into each terminal by a guard of honour made up of Heathrow volunteers.

After three days of operation, the terminal will be decommissioned and the site returned to its original use as a staff car park.

BAA chief executive Colin Matthews said: "Heathrow is proud of the part we have played in making London 2012 a success. We hope that Olympic athletes, spectators and officials enjoyed a great welcome to London.

"Olympic departures present a fresh challenge with new facilities like the Games terminal being used for the first time.

We have been preparing for seven years to deliver a farewell of which the whole country can be proud."

This week, the Prime Minister is reported to be heading to Spain while Deputy Prime Minister Mr Clegg is also travelling to the popular Mediterranean tourist destination for his traditional two-week sojourn with his wife's family.

Opposition leader Ed Miliband is spending a fortnight in Greece.

Foreign Secretary William Hague will take charge of the day-to-day business of government in the absence of the coalition's party leaders.

Mr Cameron, who attended a series of events at the Games, said on Friday that he needed a holiday as much as anyone, as he defended the timing of his departure at a press conference celebrating the success of London 2012 and outlining work to ensure long-term benefits.

"I am a great believer that politicians are human beings and they need to have holidays," he said.

"I don't call it annual leave, I call it a holiday and I am looking forward to having a holiday.

"If you don't think politicians ought to have holidays I think you need to have a serious think. But I'll be back for the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games."