Heathrow suffers more T5 `teething` problems
Saturday, 29 March 2008

London, Reuters - British Airways cancelled three dozen flights out of its new $8.6 billion terminal at Heathrow on Friday -- a fifth of scheduled departures -- as the chaos from its shambolic opening spilled into a second day.

The airline said it was cancelling the short-haul flights to "create more capacity" as it tried to get back on top of the mess left behind from Thursday's fated opening when nearly 70 flights were cancelled, leaving passengers distraught.

"We're trying to cope with the overhang from yesterday's problems and to do that we've cancelled 36 flights in order to create more capacity," said BA spokesman Michael Johnson. "We've learnt a lot from yesterday and we're keeping an extremely close eye on the situation."

BA's chief executive, Willie Walsh, took the unusual step of apologising to customers as the baggage-handling and check-in problems at the much-vaunted airport provoked a public relations disaster for the self-dubbed "world's favourite airline".

The open-plan terminal 5 is Britain's largest enclosed space, equivalent to the size of about 50 soccer pitches, and was touted as the answer to the delays passengers can face at the other four terminals at the world's third busiest airport.

As opposed to Thursday, when some passengers were told that they could only check in hand luggage and some flights left without luggage in the hold at all, British Airways said customers could now check in both hand and hold luggage.

Some stranded passengers -- many of whom publicly denounced the airline -- spent the night in the gleaming terminal, reluctant to pay for nearby hotels even though BA, which is using Terminal 5 exclusively, had promised to reimburse them.

"I am very sorry that the problems have meant that some of our customers did not experience the true potential of this amazing new building," Walsh said in his apology.

British Airways had spent months promoting the gleaming new terminal, packed with high-end shops and restaurants, bringing photographers and journalists from all over the world to London to show off the complex try to generate a positive buzz.

But the extensive coverage has largely backfired in the past 24 hours as passengers and the British media alike have railed against the airline and the airport operator, Spanish-owned firm BAA , for their "style-over-substance" shortcomings.

"Terminal Disgrace" was the headline in the popular British newspaper the Daily Mail, while the London Times called it a shambles and the most-read paper The Sun a disaster.

"It's a national disgrace and a national humiliation," said a British member of parliament whose flight was cancelled.

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