This blog is now retired. My new site is at: Predictably Irrational.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Terminal 5

So, I'm not sure what was being broadcasted in the U.S. but in London, all week, Heathrow's Terminal 5 has been headline news.

Terminal 5 at Heathrow was touted as the new state-of-the-art facility, that was to provide an amazing experience for passengers. Here are some of the news items I found, espousing the luxury of Terminal 5.

On the building itself:
The building — designed to be the prime aviation gateway to London and the United Kingdom —is drop-dead gorgeous. Rising 130 feet high and bathed in natural light, the glassy structure —designed by British ‘starchitect’ Richard Rogers — has floors of marble and hardwoods, panoramic windows, passenger lounges for first and business class flyers worthy of a 5-star hotel, no fewer than 112 shops ranging from luxury brands such as Tiffany to High Street pharmacy-chain favorite Boots, and restaurants galore. One of the latter, Gordon Ramsey Plane Food, is the handiwork of the bad-boy celebrity chef.

On the baggage drop zones:
Terminal 5 also features 90-odd bag-drop stations that accept checked luggage and automatically whisk the bags onto 18 kilometers of moving tracks and belts. Bags zip along at up to 30 miles per hour on a system that updates prototypes used in Oslo, Hong Kong and Amsterdam airports. Lost baggage has been a headache at Heathrow and has often proved to be a problem for BA, the UK’s largest airline.

Terminal 5 debuted on Thursday, March 27th. We were scheduled to fly out of Terminal 5 on Saturday. Since we were pretty much immersed in the British media after Terminal 5 opened, we knew we were about to become SOL.

The news around us was the 'debacle' that Terminal 5 ended up being. Pictures of piles of baggage were shown on the front page, because the technologically advanced baggage zones were not working properly. Mainly, they were jamming up because employees could not get to work!

Employees had a hard time entering their parking areas and then security clearances were not allowing them in, so there were limited staff to help with getting passengers checked in, and/or getting baggages moving along.

So what did British Airways do (the only airline within Terminal 5)? They started canceling flights. Friday, the news broadcast that 70 flights were canceled that day. That's a lot of damn flights. We found that indeed, our flight out of Terminal 5 for Saturday was one of the many canceled for that day.

The mad dash to find another flight ensued. Tim spent a good deal of time on the phone with British Airways, who profusely apologized but never found us a flight at the same price that we had paid three months before. Although we paid only a little bit more for our new flights, it was nowhere near the price we had paid in our pre-planning. But the point of the matter was that they fucked it all up and we, the peons, were left scrambling to figure out how to proceed.

It appears that Londoners are quite embarrassed by this...and I don't blame them. I can't believe these people didn't test their system out? Can they really claim to have? Because as a previous tester (and I don't think it can leave the system, if you've ever been a tester), there is NO WAY failures at this magnitude could happen...

Some new quotes about Terminal 5:
He [Jim Fitzpatrick, the aviation minister] said 28,000 bags were now stranded, rather than the 15,000 admitted by the airline over the weekend. It could take up to a week for the bags to be reunited with their owners, he said

Mr Fitzpatrick said passengers using the £4.3 billion terminal had suffered an "unacceptably poor experience" and delivery had fallen "well short of expectation".

The employees problems:
Many British Airways airport workers complained they were delayed getting to the building because of a shortage of specially-designated car parking spaces.

Some also reported that staff overflow car parks were not open and they had been forced to drive around in circles to find somewhere to put their cars.

Then, once inside the terminal building, workers also faced problems getting to the restricted "airside" via security checkpoints.

We at least didn't arrive at Heathrow Terminal 5, but were flying out. Here is what happened to a family going on a skiing trip, who did go through Terminal 5:
A family going on a skiing holiday in Switzerland last year received only £100 from BA despite having to spend £1,000 on replacement ski gear when their bags were lost for a fortnight.

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