All the achievements of T5's construction team are in danger of being forgotten after the disastrous first two days of operation
And it was all going so well. For months – years, now – the Terminal 5 team have been telling us how great it’s all been. How the T5 Agreement has changed everything. How T5 will open on time, and on budget. How T5 will be the biggest success story the UK construction industry has seen in a generation.
Laing O’Rourke were so confident of it, it took a full-page advert in The Times to let everyone know. They must be wishing they hadn’t now.
Not, I should hasten to add, that the debacle of the opening of T5 has had anything to do with the construction team behind it. Indeed, the team handed over the keys to T5 on time and on budget, as promised and indeed boasted about.
The problem is once the keys were put in the ignition, the engine stalled - and how.
The problem is once the keys were put in the ignition, the engine stalled - and how. The state-of-the-art baggage system broke down. The staff couldn’t find their own car park, and then couldn’t get through security.
Travellers had the same problem. At the time of writing, more than 70 flights have been cancelled. The headlines were unforgiving: “What did go wrong at Terminal 5?”; “Chaos at the terminal” and “Heathrow Hell” were emblazoned on the front pages.
It was all so predictable. Did anyone really expect that the mere addition of a new Terminal would change the poor customer service, the unpredictability of the general public and the Orwellian security measures at Heathrow?
The saddest thing is that the PR nightmare of Terminal 5’s opening has irretrievably diminished the achievement of its construction.
The facts behind the disastrous opening of T5 are that British airports are badly managed. Whether this is the fault of BAA or British Airways remains to be seen.
The saddest thing is that the PR nightmare of Terminal 5’s opening has irretrievably diminished the achievement of its construction. Without wishing to adopt the hyperbole of Laing O’Rourke’s PR team – you’ll have to read The Times to get that – T5 had a genuine opportunity to change the British public’s conception of the industry.
But the terminal broke when the world’s eyes were watching it. Now, it’s likely that any mention of T5 will be suffixed by the word disaster, just like the last large-scale construction project in recent history. Poor old BAA – who knew they’d end up building the next Wembley?