Good Pilot Etiquette at Heathrow?

Today was extremely busy at EGLL/LHR and ATC handled the whole affair exceptionally well. I have a question about pilot etiquette, specifically when taxiing from Terminal 4…

So like many other airlines, Garuda Indonesia departs from T4. It’s the little terminal to the left of the end of R27L. I could see planes queueing and backing up the other side, all ready for departure. I’m all about being polite to both pilots and ATC so this situation was quite odd, as I normally depart EGLL from T4 but on more quiet days when the airport is almost empty.

So here is where the question comes in. I’m given pushback and taxi clearance to R27L. Taxiing to 27L is quite short from T4, and essentially takes you right to the end of the runway ready for departure in a very short time, thus appearing to cut in to the front of queueing traffic on the other side.

With a feeling of guilt, I went straight to the end and was given clearance to depart before some of the back traffic on the other side who had been waiting longer - thank you to ATC for quick clearance and sorry to the pilots waiting on the other side if you thought I was intentionally being discourteous and “cutting in” - never my intention.

So there are 2 options - request a crossing at the intersection and join the queue on the other side or go ahead and taxi straight to the departure point at the end of the runway directly from T4 as I did. Which is the best option?

I’m guessing if ATC wants you to join the other side, it will progress you over the runway and into the queue via crossing, so unless otherwise instructed, I did the correct thing, albeit appearing to cut in like a cutting in thing, which normally irritates people.

Thank you and any opinions are welcome!

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I’d say that your etiquette is top-notch, as you had a genuine reason to spawn near the non-trafficked side of the runway. It’s actually more efficient for everybody if you take off from the side of the runway closest to your current position. While it may seem like “line-cutting” to some, our goal as controllers is to get aircraft up into the air as expeditiously and safely as possible.

Logically, an unnecessary crossing would hold departures up more than if you didn’t cross. Aircraft can’t take off or land while you’re crossing. Aircraft also can’t take off or land while you’re taking off. So, if you chose the former option and crossed the runway, other pilots would have to wait for you to cross and takeoff. If the latter, they’d just have to wait for you to takeoff.

This is very similar to intersection departures. As per Section 3.2.4 of the ATC Manual,

Controllers should not view intersection departures as ‘queue jumping’, but instead use it to their advantage to provide an expeditious service. For example, a gap between two arrivals that looks tight for a commercial aircraft to depart in, might be suitable for a fast jet? The flexibility it offers the Controller is a tool, not a hindrance.

Often, what pilots see as “line-cutting” is seen as an expeditious service by ATC.

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Crossings at busy hubs should be avoided as much as possible as they cause delay for departures & arrivals. You did the right thing here by taxiing directly to the end of the runway from your side. When there’s more than one side to enter the runway, ATC usually pays attention to who got there first and issue clearances in that order. That being said, if it’s busy and ATC did not see who got to the runway first, ATC may just pick the first pilot from either side ‘randomly’ to issue a clearance to (which is probably what happened in your case).

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@lucaviness and @Maxim thanks and this is exactly what I thought - it’s going to hold up traffic by essentially temporarily closing the runway to cross it. I used to think intersection departures and odd taxiways like T4 that take you directly to the front looked like blatant cutting in from a pilot’s view, until realising it’s a more efficient way of clearing the traffic when needed. Just wanted to check what was expected here.

Thank you kindly.

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  • Spawned at the correct terminal as per your airline livery ✅
  • Did not disrupt traffic flow, cut through other aircraft ✅
  • Followed all ATC instructions ✅

Nothing wrong there. IMO, pilots should be encouraged to spread out at airports to prevent clogging of ground traffic at specific points. Those terminals are there to be used, don’t be afraid to do so 😉

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