The first big rush of Paralympic athletes flew into Heathrow today, with competitors pleased with their welcome.

"I have been very well looked after and everyone is smiling," said SKUD 18 yachting competitor Jan Apel, 61, from Auckland, New Zealand.

A spinal cord sufferer, Ms Apel flew in from Auckland, via Singapore, with her yachting co-sailor Tim Dempsey, 41, who has muscular dystrophy.

Arriving at Heathrow's Terminal 3, Ms Apel said: "I enjoyed watching the Olympics and am looking forward to taking part in the Paralympics."

British Airways said today would be its busiest day for Paralympic arrivals at Heathrow.

Today also saw the first of the Paralympic Games lanes coming into force.

BA is flying in Paralympic teams from 25 countries including ParalympicsGB who are thought to be arriving at Heathrow next week from their training camps abroad.

Along with the athletes, BA is also transporting around 300 wheelchairs and sporting equipment such as firearms, weapon bags, physiotherapist cases, bike boxes, tandem bikes, bow and arrows, and hand cycles.

BA operations director Andy Lord said: "It has been a mammoth operation that we have been planning and preparing for since the 2008 Beijing Games, when we flew Team GB and ParalympicGB home on a gold nose aircraft.

"It is a privilege to fly thousands of athletes, their coaching teams and their sporting equipment into London for the Paralympic Games and follows on from the great service we delivered for the Olympic Games."

The first Paralympic Games lane is between junctions 3 and 2 on the M4 which takes traffic from Heathrow into central London.

It will be in operation each day as needed from 5am to 10pm, with "ordinary" traffic able to use it outside these times.

The M4 lane is part of a much smaller Games lane operation than for the main Olympics with just 8.7 miles of special lanes for the Paralympics which start next Wednesday (August 29) and end on September 9.

The lanes are part of the Paralympic Route Network (PRN), which, in turn, is much smaller than the 109-mile Olympic Route Network.

Apart from the M4 lane, the PRN will not come into force until next Wednesday. It will be focused on the City of London where the International Paralympic Committee and the world's media will be based and on venues in east London.

On most days, the number of people travelling to the Olympic Park will be as many as travelled there during the Olympics, with up to 215,000 spectators expected.