Heathrow Terminal 5 False Starts

After the £4.3 Billion that went into Heathrow Terminal 5, you’d think would be enough to help things run reasonably smoothly. Yet in typical British fashion, it’s another big money mockery. Along with the Millennium Dome’s early closure, Wembley Stadium’s endless building work and the London Eye’s opening technical problems, Terminal 5 at Heathrow has opened in chaos.

Heathrow Terminal 5

The Terminal opened up its doors to the public on March 27th 2008, with the first flight (from Hong Kong) landing in the morning at 04.42 (some eight minutes early). Following this, the first departure left to Paris at a punctual 06:20, giving the impression of a fantastic start to the Terminal’s opening. Yet from there on in everything began to grind to a halt.

It’s too easy to be sensationalist with all of the problems that beset Heathrow, but a quick run-down of the main points:

- 75 flights cancelled by the end of the second day.
- System faults and broken belts helped bagged collection delays of up to two hours.
- Three flights were reported to have left without any luggage.
- Luggage check-in at the terminal was suspended by the end of the day.
- Setbacks in screening airline staff left even further delays.
- “Flash mob” protesters turned up at 11am on the opening day.

In all, it seemed like a disaster waiting to happen. I’m surprised Heathrow Terminal 5 wasn’t opened gradually to help iron out problems without causing so much stress. With so many flights due to land and take off on day one, it did feel like far too much was taken on at once. Around 2,500 staff migrated to the new building and a whole variety of vehicles and baggage equipment which was all moved over the night before. Without time for even a speck of dust to settle, the first flight was landing, giving no room for error.

Really, that’s just asking for problems. You can’t expect such a highly complexed and expansive operation to run like clockwork. Inevitably, it all came crashing down and it’s a shame because the promises British Airways were making seemed like there were certain of success.

There were people who were on their way to the airport expecting Terminal 5 to be this great experience, who were texted to say their flights were cancelled before they even arrived… It was humiliating to see that happening.

David Cameron gave his ten cents worth on the opening of Terminal 5 by describing the delays as “humiliating” and it makes a stark contrast to the quotes from the Heathrow Terminal 5 official website:

At London Heathrow Terminal 5 we’ve created a natural, logical journey that’s so calm, you’ll flow through. It should only take ten minutes to get from check-in to departures.

It’s certainly nowhere close to how things actually unravelled, but it is something to hope for. I’m sure everyone is working hard behind the scenes to try and get things running smoothly again. Let’s just hope everything is sorted sooner rather than later. With the move from Terminal 4 due on April 30th, they’re going to have to do a great deal of work to get ready.

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