A close-up view of the T5 debacle from a passenger and architect who very badly wanted to be impressed
What a pity, I thought three weeks ago when about to leave for Los Angeles for a family wedding, that I shall be too early to experience Terminal 5. My wife is not an architect but I thought she would be impressed by a new Richard Rogers building anyway. But for the return journey we found out that the new terminal had been opened the day before.
We duly turned up at LAX in good time, only to receive the news that all BA flights were delayed for at least two hours due to a hitch at Terminal 5, which had opened the previous day. Adding an extra two hours to the one-and-a-half hours left after check-in was not too bad - laptops are wonderful things for killing time when travelling.
Eventually we were on the 747 for the usual 11-hour flight to Heathrow, with the prospect of the shiny new T5 at the end. After an extra three-quarters of an hour of “stacking” round Heathrow, we duly landed.
The several hundred weary customers squatting on the floor were just obstacles to be skirted round. The staff were tight-lipped, smug and uncommunicative
It was a full flight with lots of clearly foreign visitors and we all queued in the aisle waiting to disembark. After a suspicious delay of some 15 minutes the pilot came on the intercom to announce that he was sorry but they were unable to contact 'the man who drives” the connection between the aircraft and the satellite. A further 15 minutes and then we heard the pilot again: “I don't know how to tell you this, but we are connected to the satellite but we can't locate the person who can unlock the door into the satellite.”
After another 15 minutes we all trooped off the plane and made our way to the baggage claim in the main terminal via the shuttle, which was working although the signage is confusing. Waiting by the carousel for half an hour produced only an unfriendly announcement that “baggage from flight 282 is delayed” - no apology or any idea of how long the delay would be. Half an hour more and another unfriendly, unapologetic voice: “Baggage from flight 282 has been sent to the domestic baggage hall in error. Please wait while it is brought over.”
During the hour and a half waiting for baggage, which mercifully did arrive - unlike that of 15,000 other poor souls, whose bags have yet to be returned to them - about 50-100 unhurried BA staff walked past the weary passengers on their way to and from a door into the backstage area from where, presumably, our stuff might eventually emerge.
It was not a proud moment to be a UK citizen among so many hapless foreign visitors being treated like a bunch of guinea pigs.
Obviously they all had their latest dispute with BA management on their minds, or other important business, and the several hundred weary customers squatting on the floor were just obstacles to be skirted round on their way. Whatever: they were, to a person, tight-lipped, smug and uncommunicative. It was not a proud moment to be a UK citizen among so many hapless foreign visitors being treated like a bunch of guinea pigs by two huge, completely remote companies like BA and a Spanish-owned BAA.
My wife was duly unimpressed.
David Levitt is the director at Levitt Bernstein.