Arrival: This is the oldest, purpose-built hotel at Heathrow and maintains an iconic cylindrical architecture that is easily recognizable from near and far. Its newly designed interior, however, is surprising. The Holiday Inn Ariel’s most important feature for aviation aficionados is that it sits at the exact end of the runway, which is often the spot (when winds are prevailing in a certain direction) where aircraft line up for takeoff. While there is a plethora of airport hotels along Bath Road, this is the ideal spot for aviation spotters that want to see planes close up as they taxi to, turn onto, and then begin their takeoff roll. Not even the popular Renaissance can bask in that fact of aviation lore. Staffers are proud to welcome guests as they enter the sliding glass doors via the Hoppa Bus (for a fee) or the nearby public bus (free of charge) from the terminals. Of course, taxis and public cars make their way here regularly too.
Dining: The main restaurant does an outstanding buffet breakfast with perhaps Heathrow Airport hotels’ happiest and most welcoming staff. This author has stayed at nearly a dozen airport hotels, and not a single one comes close to the type of genuine welcome one receives when dining here. It is not uncommon to be approached at any time your coffee cup looks half full (for a warmed replacement mug, of course) or simply to check in on the breakfast experience. Eggs are poached, scrambled, or boiled a la minute, and British cheese and other morning delicacies are warmed on the buffet. The sound of aircraft engines is faintly heard in the distance although most guests are surprised at the noise considering guest room windows are double-paned. Lunch and dinner are served here, as well with a host of regional dishes on the menu. The coffee bar and pub does an active business from midday onward.
Rooms: Given the hotel’s round shape, there are unique spots in the building that befit personal preferences. The most popular view is the direct runway perch (best had from the third floor) that will give aviation geeks the thrill of a lifetime. Often, aircraft line up, turn, and take off from less than a thousand meters from the hotel. This is ideal for aircraft spotters, but for any one with the travel bug as Heathrow has more airlines from around the globe than most any airport on the planet. Many rooms on the third floor are part of the Executive room category, meaning they are the most recently renovated with newer fabrics, welcome snacks and bottled water, robes and slippers, and free Internet access. Other rooms are still sporty and sleek, on par with almost every other hotel along this airport stretch. Bathrooms feature strong water pressure, scented toiletries, and heated towel racks.
Amenities: By reception, a computer station gives guests the chance to print boarding passes in a cinch, and maps showing the area’s bus stop for heading to various terminals or into town are easily marked. This is as user-friendly as airport hotels get, and the other American-branded hotels hardly hold a candle to the level of genuine service provided here. Holiday Inns worldwide are overcoming the once-perceived image of budget hotel, and this modern and contemporary offering is leading the pack. Aviation geeks, get your cameras ready, and be sure to request a runway-facing room.