Alain de Botton: LHR T5 “Better Than Any US Terminal”

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This topic contains 5 replies, has 3 voices, and was last updated by  VintageKrug 29 Sep 2009
at 21:47

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  • Anonymous


    This is a clever promotion, as reported on the BT newsfeed, on the part of the usually PR-inept BAA.

    They have garnered a whole day of free publicity from the BBC, starting out on R4’s TODAY with an interview with Evan Davis, their new populist presenter, and are sure to make back their costs from the book they intend on distributing free, then selling.

    Naturally, I hope BAA will be compensating BA and carbon offsetting the cost of flying the planned 10,000 freely distributed books on board BA’s aircraft!

    Most of that interview can be seen on the BBC link below:

    and also a narrated Sildeshow:

    A de B makes the statement that T5 is now “better than any US terminal”.

    I am sure many business travellers reading this have had considerable experience of many US terminals.

    I think T5 does blow all current US terminals all out of the water in terms of architecture and “making a statement” (US does have some older stunning architecture, such as that beautiful but defunct TWA terminal in JFK, and the iconic LAX building which isn’t actually a terminal at all).

    I am however not certain T5 quite delivers, as we hoped it might, a transformational world leading passenger experience.

    Partially, this is down to the reduced footprint necessitated by the limited land available between the two runways at Heathrow. This is why there are so many escalators and lifts required for your “Grand Old Duke of York” journey from check-in to lounge and onwards to your gate.

    Sure, T5 ticks all the boxes, but the BAA elements (security, passenger flow and overall layout of shops and passenger facilities) does fail to *exceed* expectations.

    This is largely to do with the need for BAA to make profits from shopping facilities rather than any Machiavellian hatred of passengers; more simple ineptitude and short sightedness on behalf of the retainers of the former state-owned British Airports Authority.

    Hopefully, clever PR exercises such as this will allow BAA to explain to airport users, in simple terms why things are as they are, and perhaps garner a little more publilc sympathy.

    Despite my reservations about T5, I cannot put my finger on a similarly sized US terminal which I could, without reservation, say is actually better than T5.

    Any suggestions?


    I would say there are many terminals better than T5. Even Newark terminal C is better.

    T5 is a shopping centre where the passengers are an afterthought. I had high hopes for it but after having had the misery of using it several times I now actively avoid any flights through Heathrow.

    Houston terminal E is better. It is a real airport terminal desgined for passengers.


    A de B makes the statement that T5 is now “better than any US terminal”.

    Perhaps he has not been fortunate to travel through the new-ish San Francisco Airport (SFO) International Terminal. On arrival passengers remain on the same level in the building from disembarking their aircraft to curb side or metro transit platform. On departure check-in, security and the departure lounge are all on one level, with only one, I repeat only one, escalator to go down prior to boarding the aircraft. That’s design with passengers in mind.

    At the SFO British Airways lounge it’s usually possible to board the aircraft from the lounge. There is a separate exit from the lounge to the air bridge avoiding the need to queue up at the gate entrance. That is cool.


    I visited SFO last week.

    The international terminal is great, though of course considerably smaller than T5.

    It also has the advantage of plenty of space to expand laterally; T5 was constrained by the need to fit within the existing two runways at LHR. This is why there is so much mountain climbing between checkin, lounges and boarding the aircraft.

    However, I would say that coming from the rental car return, I had togo down an escalator, across a road, up an elevator and onto a five minute Airtrain to get into the terminal to check in, and down an elevator into the lounge.

    BA has a very acceptable “board from lounge£ set up in SFO, which is very Concorde Room and a rather nice feature. Shame that sort of facility was not put in place, at least for the premium JFK route, at T5.


    Alain de Botton: Airport Lounger

    Here is his most recent article for The Times:

    Repetition lent their fuselage designs a new beauty: the eye could follow a series of identical motifs down a 15-strong line of dolphin-like bodies, the resulting aesthetic effect only enhanced by the knowledge that each plane had cost some $250m, and that what lay before one was therefore a symbol not just of the modern era’s daunting technical intelligence but also of its prodigious and inconceivable wealth.

    A little pretentious in places, n’est ce pas? 😉

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