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Heathrow Terminal 5 Opening Day Fiasco

Locations in this article:  Hong Kong London, England

Heathrow Terminal FiveThe official hype for Heathrow Airport’s new Terminal 5 has been building for months.

Heathrow’s reputation for problems — from passenger delays to delayed baggage — is well-known.

But it was hoped that the opening of the new terminal, as well as an end to BAA’s silly one carry-on policy, would begin to turn things around.

And so expectations in Britain were high when the Queen herself showed up to declare that Terminal 5 was officially open.

But from day one, there were problems …

More than 11,000 passengers were affected by the bloopers that struck Terminal 5 on its opening days. More than 70 flights have been cancelled in the last two days, according to the BBC.

Some passengers even told the Daily Mail that they’re “ashamed to be British” as fights broke out among after British Airways (BA) announced it was cutting a fifth of its flights.

Of the many issues that plagued the terminal, its “sophisticated” new baggage system, designed to handle 12,000 bags an hour, had serious glitches, which caused flights to fly off without bags and creating the first of many backlogs. Eventually, BA suspended all checking of luggage, forcing passengers to carry on their bags, find a different flight or cancel altogether.

The problems started early in the morning, as poor road signage meant that employees had problems finding parking, even as the first passengers started arriving.

The first load of passengers arriving in London from Hong Kong waited around for an hour for their delayed bags, and they were some of the luckiest passengers. One source says that the Hong Kong bags only made it off the plane so quickly because managers stepped in and helped carry them off.

Passengers Waiting for BaggageThe clogged-up baggage claim forced later passengers to wait up for several hours for their luggage.

Hundreds of passengers were forced to spend the night in the terminal after their flights were cancelled or their luggage was delayed for hours. By noon the next day, tempers were flaring and the union representing British Airways staff had to ask passengers “not to abuse or attack staff.”

Other problems included malfunctioning escalators, and breakdown this morning of the transit system that that would carry passengers from the from the main Terminal 5 building to the satellite Terminal 5B.

British Airways predicts that problems will occur through the weekend. There are also serious doubts that the transfer of more flights from Terminal 4 to Terminal 5 will happen by the planned date of April 30.

Relating Terminal 5 to London as a whole, India’s Economic Times reported that Terminal 5 is “being hailed as a national shame that puts London’s ability to host the next Olympics into doubt.” The planning of T5 took 15 years, cost $8.6 billion, and took six years to build. Every UK dignitary, and even the Prime Minister, touted the terminal and believed it would be a national accomplishment that would quell “Heathrow hell.”

Though Willie Walsh, BA chief executive, publicly extended his apologies for customer distress and admitted BA, “clearly got things wrong,” he is ignoring calls for his resignation and will not step down due to the terminal’s initial hiccups.

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