I managed to push back out of LHR yesterday from Terminal 4 – on time… which is more than I can say for many of my colleagues using Terminal 5. I am not yet fully briefed on the reasons for the problems at the new Terminal but it does sound from a distance like dark forces were working yesterday.
Despite months of trials and preparations, many of the systems on which the staff rely for passenger and baggage processing just didn’t work properly or in some cases – at all. This sounds really odd!
Extracts from The Telegraph
BAA, the airport operators, insisted that the difficulties were “no more than teething troubles ……”
BAA’s problems were not helped by the presence of 300 tee shirt wearing protesters.
This was a less than auspicious start for a terminal which was supposed to bring an end the “Heathrow hassle” which has ensured the airport is loathed by airlines, passengers and politicians alike. (Lets not forget the people who work in the place. N)
Terminal 5 (T5) was supposed to bring an end to the delays faced by in and outbound passengers. Its new sophisticated baggage handling system was also supposed to mean that British Airways London-is-Bad-for-Business-Travel no longer lost more suitcases than any other major airline. But it proved too sophisticated for some members of the first shift who, on turning up for work, found they were unable to log on to the system at all.
Willie Walsh, the chief executive of BA, said: “I’m absolutely delighted. I think it’s great and it’s going to get better.” This comment was made of course before the trouble really hit the terminal.
Others ~ “They can’t handle the bags, the people down there don’t know what they are doing. They are putting the bags on the wrong conveyor belt, they haven’t been trained properly. ” A BA staff member said they would have liked to be able to phase it in rather than “do it all at once”.
BAA (British Airports Authority), who admitted responsibility for the difficulties relating to outbound baggage, referred queries about the inbound bags to British Airways, the airline using the terminal. Despite hours of chaos, BA was still unable to shed any light on what was happening.
Meanwhile some inbound flights had to wait on the tarmac before a gate could be found for passengers to disembark.
Shaun Cowlam, Heathrow’s logistics director, said BAA would take on board any problems, adding that with a huge project such as T5 there was bound to be a “bedding in period”.
He went on: “I would say so far, so good. I am cautiously optimistic. “Most airports open with difficulties. Looking at where we are now – is it perfect? Not in every respect.”
More than 40,000 customers and 534 flights were due to pass through the new T5 today. Some were less than impressed by the new terminal which was supposed to drag Heathrow belatedly into the 21st century.
Some users were impressed. Gordon Ramsay, the chef who has opened a restaurant at the terminal, admitted that Heathrow had been a national disgrace. “Now look at it, it looks like a dream,” he said.
There was an awful lot said and done yesterday, but perhaps a lot more said than done. Some of those making rosy statements may have cause for reflection later, a notable few who carry the mantle of responsibility may find it a little hard to sleep duing the days that follow. If there is any justice, they may well have plenty of time on their hands to get to the bottom of the failures that occured on the opening day, one that the BAA and British Airways may hope to forget with the passing weeks. A day of infamy.
At the human end of the scale I can report that behind the scenes Herculean efforts were made trying to drag our operation back on course. Several fights reportedly broke out in the terminal involving frustrated passengers and the odd member of staff defending themselves. Allegedly one passenger services representative had her nose broken during a violent affray.
There were many tears both in the Terminal and other operational corners of the human machine that fights to restore order in the operational nightmare that accompanies the disruption that follows.
One colleague of mine tried to get some sense from a lady in crew operations, she looked him straight in the eye and just burst into tears, she was near the end of her tether having dealt with rocketing levels of stress and workload over an extended period. And these fine people are no strangers to disruption, when the guano hits the whirly thing they are the first to feel the pressure and generally handle it really well, but what happened here has gouged a deep sense of shame into employees hearts across the airline.
What should have been a flagship launch turned into a debacle and there is a growing suspicion among those closer to affairs than I who suspect that industrial sabotage may have had a part in the troubles. Were they eventually made, accusations of this nature would have powerful effects; the fog needs to clear before that one is allowed to run.
In the daily battle that air travel has become, we must all remember the human dimension during the misery of bad times. These events can be heart rending but within them you will find plenty to inspire. It is here that you may see the very best in people at work, surprisingly the very worst seldom seems to emerge. Could that be why the industry is still packed at every level with people who love aviation and all it has to offer – good days and bad?
New airport terminals are famous for their teething troubles, try Denver and Hong Kong for starters.
Heathrow’s (BAA?) logistics director Shaun Cowlam acknowledged the initial difficulties, but said they would be fixed. “Most airports open with difficulties, Looking at where we are now — is it perfect? Not in every respect,” he said, but added: “I would say so far, so good. I am cautiously optimistic.
I just hope our customers and the traveling public are prepared to take the longer view and understand the nature of things. After all, this is 21st Century air travel…