When airports were young, and terminal buildings younger, there was an experiment with airport terminals being built in the centre of London.

Not next to the runways, obviously, but it was at the time thought wise to check in your luggage and do the necessary legals in the centre of town, then catch a dedicated bus to London Airport.

This resulted in the curious sight of a double-decker bus leaving the station, with a trailer full of checked-in luggage.

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Department S (ITC)

The earliest of these central terminals was at Waterloo station, which operated between 1953-57, but it was to be replaced with a giant of a terminal building, in Kensington.

This was the West London Air Terminal, and parts of it still exist, as a branch of Sainsburys.

As a terminal building — albeit a long way from the airport — it still offered all the facilities you would expect, from baggage check-in, the luggage carousel, passport control, and probably tax-free shopping.

The check-in service ceased at the end of 1973, although bus services from Cromwell Road to Heathrow continued until March 1979.

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Photograph John King

They had managed to linger long enough though for a series of model buses to be made, including the trailer. They even appeared in a few films and TV shows of the time, showing off how advanced London is as a city.

What killed it off was in part the extension of the Piccadilly line to Heathrow two years earlier, in 1977, and changing expectations by the passengers themselves, who preferred to make their own way to the airport and check-in there.

Photo by Clive A Brown

Photo by Clive A Brown

And sadly, no more Routemaster buses with luggage trailers.

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15 comments on “The time when Routemaster buses came with luggage trailers
  1. Steve says:

    Fantastic. Is there a drinks service on the bus? Oh and pull the curtain, I don’t want the riff raff in the J section!

  2. Annabel says:

    I remember those! And if you were flying to London, it was improbable that you would be met at the airport itself, in those days before the Tube went there; almost everybody said they would meet you at the West London Air Terminal. It was a very easy journey – did it myself a few times.

  3. Jim says:

    Anyone remember the BOAC terminal in Victoria – just down from Victoria Coach Station who had their own fleet of double deck “coaches”.

    • Roy says:

      I worked their in 1972 – it also housed the board of British Airway (whivh ran BEA and BOAC) as well as BOAC reservations. Staff got the same food as passengers for next to no cost. There was no passport control at the terminals – if you think about it passengers were still in the UK. I used The terminal as a passenger in 1978 when I went to work in Iran.

  4. Tom says:

    Would be great if they could get one of these in brooklands to link the Concorde to the london bus museum.

  5. flymartin says:

    There was airline baggage check-in at Paddington as recently as 1999, connected to the Heathrow Express I think.

  6. Nigel says:

    BOAC had a terminal at Victoria, Pan Am at Olympia and Aer Lingus at Brompton Road. Those were the days when air travel was relatively expensive and passengers had to be well-off to fly. The central London check-in was all part of the service.
    I think one reason for their demise was the increase in road traffic to Heathrow and the buses getting delayed, which resulted in delayed flights. As the passengers had been checked in they were guaranteed to be on the flight.

  7. petras409 says:

    The nice thing about the earlier generation of airport coaches (the half deck 4RF4’s visible in one of the aerial photographs of the West London Air Terminal) was their destination blinds were wound around to show thew destination of your flight (so that you boarded the right coach). Thus coaches left the terminal displaying ‘Paris, Athens, New York, etc’.

    Your journey adventure really did start here. It was a pity that the Routemasters were fitted with blank fronts, losing some of this charm in the process.

    It would be good to discover the full extent of destinations found on those coach blinds.

  8. David Smith says:

    After finishing with British Airways, London Transport bought the majority back and started painting them into Red. They where classed as RMA, and pilot use of them started on the 175 in Romford(with just a slip board for the destination and a small number box), but it was found a lack of interior handrails caused complaints so they where demoted to staff and training buses. I remember my Dads Blue and white training bus which eventually went off for painting but he didn’t get it back.

  9. george says:

    I grew up near West London Air Terminal, and I was chatting to an old chap at a HUGE Routemaster rally in Finsbury Park a few years back, who used to drive the old BEA RMs with trailers. Their biggest fault, according to him, was that the bus would make a left turn, and the trailer would detach and hurtle along the A4!

  10. Mosafer says:

    It is so great if every airline has a bus like that.

  11. Kenneth Wade says:

    I use to drive the B.O.A.C coaches from London Heathrow Airport to London Victoria Air Terminal, and back,and drive all vehicles at Heathrow Airport. I started working for B.O.A.C in 1964 as loadriver untill 2000.I am making models all the vehicles B.O.A.C and B.E.A.had,if.i can find the detail of them.

  12. Roger Gann says:

    The Victoria terminal was built for Imperial Airways specifically to ferry passengers to Southampton where they would board their flying boat to take them to the Far East. It even had its own private platform.

  13. Fraser Mitchell says:

    A photo of the even older coaches would have been nice. Needless to say, as traffic built up, the terminal became useless as the coaches were held up in traffic thus delaying the flights.

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