T5: Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here?

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    T5: Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here

    Well, what a week for Heathrow. BA and BAA pinned the hopes of the travelling public on T5. And if you read the press, we have all been seriously let down.

    It is true that British Airways has had a very bad run these past few years. Strikes, baggage failures, catering problems and extreme weather have all played their part. Many of us have been able to forgive and forget these incidents, some of which were beyond management control.


    To be fair, in the past five years BA has done a pretty good job of delivering a profitable airline without state aid.

    While US airlines receive outright government subsidies post 9/11, do not pay for airport security, hide behind Chapter 11 bankruptcy and a mandatory “fly America” scheme restricting use of government funded travel, as well as benefiting from Reserve Air Fleet payments, British Airways has had to earn its own profits in a globally competitive marketplace against a background of enormous cost base inflation.

    Re-investment is occurring both on board with http://www.newclubworld.com and a new FIRST product on the way in 2009, Video on Demand in all class aboard the 747s and a new A320/787/A380 fleet from 2010 sustaining innovations like flights from London City direct to New York and a whole new airline from mainland Europe to New York in the shape of http://www.flyopenskies.com

    But deliver profits it has done, peaking with a 10% margin for the previous 2007/8 financial year.

    But all this cost cutting seems to have come at a price.

    Public Relations Woes

    With many of the debacles which have afflicted BA, it was not so much that these issues happened in the first place. It was the way in which they were handled by management which rightly earned the public ire.

    Often, hard pressed front line staff were left to pick up the pieces when there seemed to be no contingency in place. There was a lot to forgive, but in Terminal 5 we were assured a similar situation would not develop.

    As the Sunday Times stated in its editorial at the weekend “not since the White Star Line decalred the Titanic unsinkable has there been a better example of hubris”.

    With T5, expectations were raised. In the end, the nation was embarrassed.

    Window Dressing

    It was clear to me that the tests which were performed prior to the T5 opening were little more than window dressing. Knowing several participants personally, it is clear certain reported issues were brushed under the carpet, and remain unresolved.

    Any major infrastructure project like this will have teething problems. We all, I think, expected that. What we did not expect was that no plans were in place to deal with them.

    Why was there no “fire break” of unsold flights in the middle of the first day which would have eased pressure on baggage handlers? Why was proper orientation training not given, to avoid staff getting lost on their first day in T5? Where were the extra staff needed on day one?

    Blame Game

    Some people say baggage handlers in their notoriously communist habits were aggrieved by the new working practices imposed on them by BA and did everything they could to disrupt operations, losing passwords and turning up late. There is talk of a brawl breaking out in the sorting floor.

    Others talk of the penalties which BAA must pay to BA in the event of a serious operational failure; in other words it may have been cost effective for BA to let things go wrong.

    These are not excuses. Strong management would have anticipated and mitigated these possibilities. They failed.

    Instead, Graham Kirkwood, BA Operations Director, was passed the poison chalice of facing the press, visibly shaking and refusing questions. Why Willie Walsh not at his side? Why were cameras then banned from the terminal, just as the very same was being done in Tibet and Zimbabwe? Where is the BA PR savvy, in a country which invented PR?

    Beyond the Hype

    But beyond the negative press hype what is the reality of using Terminal 5?

    All this weekend’s event should be put into context. No major airport opening has gone without a hitch in the past decade; operations are far more complex than they once were, and run on a much tighter budget.

    BA cancelled around 200 flights last week; on March 26, the day before T5 opened, serious safety concerns with gas-guzzling highly polluting ancient MD80s cancelled almost 400 flights, or 10% of the AA flight programme, affecting thousands in the US. In the scheme of things the T5 debacle was a limited event.

    First Hand Account

    Well, I have been to T5 on a trip this weekend and I can tell you the terminal itself is a masterpiece. We should be rightly proud of this temple of travel.

    In the coming weeks the glitches will be sorted, and familiarity will come to get the very best out of the remarkable technological and other advances which will make T5 the success it deserves to be.

    It is often said we are quick to criticise in this country, and focussed criticism was well deserved. But let’s gets some perspective and balance into the reportage, and see the great achievements which have been made, notwithstanding the operational woes.

    Entering the departures area a genuine sense of calm envelopes you; it just doesn’t have that stressful feel associated with other airports. It is light, airy and frankly beautiful, with a soaring ceiling guiding you out towards the huge windows beyond which a sea of red, white and blue tailfins awaits to whisk you away.

    The glamour of travel is back.

    The whole complex is littered with some impressive artwork, in particular The Cloud and All the Time in the World situated near the Galleries lounge complex, worth a visit. You can see more on these pieces here:


    The Passenger Experience

    Queues at security were minimal, with a new system of scanners which no longer require laptops to be removed from bags. An automatic tray retrieval system helps speed things along. I remain unconvinced about this new procedure, but again time is needed to bed this one in.

    The Concorde Room

    First, Concorde Room cardholders and Premier cardholder passengers can turn right directly after Security South into the Concorde Room. This is a triumph, and worthy of the name.

    High backed chairs grouped around digital fireplaces create a cosy feel, contemporary and chic, but remaining somehow British. An airy terrace provides an ideal destination from which to survey the airport, vintage champagne in hand.

    The First Dining Room provides discreet cubby holed dining opportunities for the famous. John Major and his wife were there on my visit.

    And the Board Room, featuring genuine Concorde seats, is a real feature.

    One innovation is the three cabanas which can be booked by appointment for a rest, and refresh pre-flight.

    The Galleries First Lounge

    Yet more stunning artwork, with alabaster horses sporting lampshades minding the entrance, and a range of environments to suit your mood. Plenty of high-tech coffee machines and delicious food on offer pre-flight (I sampled the cannelloni, which was excellent) as well as ample provision for children in their play area.

    An excellent range of wines and champagnes is on offer, together with newspapers and magazines to while away the time. A shame there was more time to while away than I planned on, but every cloud has a silver lining.

    Galleries Club Lounge

    For Club Europe and Club World Passengers, the Galleries Club boats a cinema, buffet food, ample PCs and free WiFi, as well as some innovative use of vintage BOAC prints, and plenty of room to, well, lounge.

    Elemis Spa

    Up to 20 showers and a range of Spa Service are offered complimentary to eligible longhaul passengers, with radio now available in the shower suites and electronic massage chairs enhancing the personalised treatments available.

    Premium Preference

    It is clear the terminal is a dream for premium passengers, and aiming at this market is exactly where BA has positioned itself, as the rest of the world seems to go downmarket, BA has taken a stand and is setting the trend for others to follow. I am unapologetic about this, as I believe the ground experience will be a clear differentiator in the future, as flat beds on board become a commodity offered by all.


    The range and calibre of retail opportunities is unrivalled in my experience, and the highest level of finish ensures all the goods (a good swathe of which are British) are showcased to look their very best.


    Gates are well laid out, and although I had to trundle to the other end of the terminal to catch my domestic flight, there is a Domestic Galleries lounge which replicates many, but not all, of the features mentioned earlier, as is the case in T5B which will mainly cater for longhaul flights.


    Sure, my flight ended up being three hours late both inbound and outbound. And there was some inane shenanigans when it took 1h 45m to get a set of steps from the neighbouring aircraft brought over to our aircraft. But I was prepared for that. I had no pressing meetings, and had planned plenty to be getting on with to make the time productive.

    I totally understand this is unacceptable for those with pressing arrangement, and for the many on my flight who missed connections. But let’s hope these opening glitches are the exception, rather than the rule.

    Baggage Advice

    Bags will always go missing, but the travelling public can do a great deal by only checking bags when absolutely necessary, always clearly labelling checked bags inside and out, when checking bags carrying valuables and essentials in hand baggage, and ensuring they have excellent travel insurance so a delayed bag turns into an excuse for a retail bonanza on arrival at your destination.

    A properly labelled bag will never be lost forever; bag sorters do not have ESP and it is naïve for the travelling public not to prepare for the worst by following the simple steps outlined above.

    BA should promulgate such advice at all times, and especially when things might be anticipated to go wrong. The lack of such advice is a clear dereliction of responsibility.

    Press on With T5 Co-Location

    What is clear is that T5 will have enormous benefits not just for BA travellers, but for all who use Heathrow. Talk of deferring the upcoming April 30 move date of all longhaul flights from T4 to T5 is defeatist.

    The new schedule, which has been widely publicised, would have to be amended, confusing thousands. And the economies of scale and benefits of T5 are best realised when BA can concentrate its people and assets in the terminal, rather than over extending itself across four LHR terminals as is the case right now.

    This is especially true in the case of baggage handling, with far more inter terminal connecting bags requiring manual intervention than would be the case were all flights co-located.

    The Future of Heathrow

    The reality is that T5 was so overdue it really only creates temporary capacity increase while the remaining terminals are refurbished, and in the case of the original LHR Terminal 2 (built in 1955) demolished. It is not the long term solution.

    It would be interesting for BT to set out clearly the relative strengths of the proposed expansion LHR to six terminals and three runways, the Thames Gateway and Thames Island Airport schemes. While LHR will be with us for a generation, its position cannot be the long term solution for Britain, and we need to move the debate on beyond T5 to the future of aviation in this country.


    I wonder if the 28,000 bags that have piled up, will lead to 28,000 customers deciding enough is enough with Britsh Airways?

    Sure, we are aware that BAA has its equal part to play, but YET AGAIN, BA Pulls many EU & domestic flights. I forget the times that BA have- & other airlines have not , the last 18 months ..is it 5 or 6?
    Many other “new” airports around the world ,or new terminals, simply do not reflect this national embarrassment!

    BA playing its part or rather Not, appears to form a set pattern, predictable, inept, mis-management catastrophies. It has lost loyalty from its staff, its customers, it has lost confidence in the basics.

    They are a shameful reflection on London, on the UK, & form the pattern of BA in recent years. With Open skies now effective, i am sure if BA were to dis-appear, many others would take up the market, more effectively. I hear on the news the phrase “You’ve been Londonised”, being used in the US already!

    “The Olympic Torch will not now arrive at T5 next week”,
    BBC News this eve…

    Well, obviously it wouldnt…Need we say more?!!!

    Its certainly great material for Pam Ann, the Satirical Yet brutally articulate Australian fringe comedian.(www.pamann.com)


    I also was there at 04:45 on the first day…It started off bad with the security not being able to read the boarding cards..OK it was a glitch that was sorted out,but one gripe is all the comments about the Lounges only cater for a minority of passengers..What about the 90% who travel economy..The things I found “bad” about T5 are :-
    Ridiculous size and positioning of signs to the gates and other info.
    Escalators from departure level only going down and none going back up.
    Not enough seating for people but mainly I feel that BAA have built a Shopping Centre that people fly from instead of a Terminal to fly from that has shops…Its a big commercial centre designed mainly to make money.. I am sure that things will get better,but we should stop putting 100% blame on BA as BAA are equally to blame for the problems.
    Another observation was that the Terminal was flooded with “Managers” all in suits looking important but suddenly disappeared as soon as there were problems..As usual ” too many chiefs and not enough Indians “…Heads should roll from both BA and BAA as they didn’t and never will listen to the people who are on the front line…Why is it that “Managers” always know better….These big companies will never learn..
    My flight was cancelled for my return to T5 but BA acted superbly by finding a hotel plus expenses and a flight home the next day…Well done..
    I will certainly be flying again from T5 with BA as this hasn’t put me off flying with BA…..


    A couple of first impressions on T5.

    Arriving by underground you have a choice of lifts (elevators) or escalators. Having hand luggage only, we took the escalators. There are three or four successive ones, and they leave you just outside the terminal on a covered landing. But there are no signs for departures. Eventually someone told us we should take the lifts the rest of the way up. These are the same lifts we ignored at the bottom. Never mind. On close inspection, the lifts don’t have call buttons, they just stop automatically. Except they only stop on the way down, not on the way up. Eventually we gave up waiting for one going up and just caught one down again so we could then go up again. Nice to see the basement again. Perhaps I missed the point of all of this, but it wasn’t a very good first impression.

    Landside, departures looks, well, big. Already checked in, so walk straight through to security. I’ve always been frustrated by how slowly people prepare themselves for the scanners – after all, we’ve all been in the queue watching and waiting for our turn, so why then act as though it’s a surprise that you have to take laptops out, take off shoes and belts, coast etc….? This new system tries to speed things up. There are 3 (I think) different stations to stand at as you undress. Laptops stay in bags, but shoes and coats off. Meanwhile two passengers are doing the same next to you. Visible sense of getting on with it and helping this new process work. The baskets arrive on a lower level around your knees, so no need to grab one from a pile at the end of the conveyor belt. Instead you fish them out, fill them up and then put them on the rollers and they go into the machine – should make things three times as fast….
    If you are at position one (closest to the scanner), you can’t get the basket onto the roller because position 2 and 3 are filling it up. So you wait for those to enter the scanner before you can put on your own tray. Then on the other side of the scanner, the baskets are all mixed up, and there are three of you trying to get dressed again while jumping around one another to get your shoes, coat, jacket etc from the mixed up baskets. A merry dance. And it’s made into a quick step since people are worried the basket will disappear to the left back into the machine and then be recycled for those waiting for the scanner. People are panicking. In fact, there are sensors which hold up these trays if there are any belongings left in them (or so I was reassured), but there are no signs to tell you that, so everyone is hassled.

    Then you look for your flight – which in our case, hadn’t got a gate assigned, so we went to the lounge to the far right of the terminal. To get there you seems to have to go down then up a flight of escalators, but perhaps I got lost. Then there are several floors of lounges. I was with a gold card holder, so we went into first, which is huge and excellent, I thought, though it seemed empty with most of the long haul flights not yet departing T5. When it was time to leave, we learned that we were departing from Pier B, got a lift down there (the voice in the lift said we were going to -2 and we went to -3, or vice versa, but I’m sure they’ll sort that out, and then it was on a shuttle train like at Gatwick. The gate was having problems with the signs as well, but we got away on time.

    Positives? It’s big, there will soon be a lounge on this B pier, and, um, it looks new. I’m afraid the art work leaves me cold, but then I’m a peasant. Why would it matter to me that there are two horse sculptures standing on either side of the entrance, or an installation against a wall where the leaves drop off the trees? I was more impressed with the views of the runway from the Gate – you realise how busy this airport is when they are taking off so often. You can also see how far you are away from the rest of the airport, or the other terminals at least. I’d be happy to be corrected on any of this, we were in a bit of a rush.


    Flew out of T5 last week and back in on Friday. I agree the lifts and signage are totally inadequate and I seemed to spend so much time on escalotors. Why so many levels? The return was good and apart from the long walk the biggest frustration was the lift to the car park. It took ten minutes to catch a lift and there were marshalls to avoid scuffles and ensure lifts were fully loaded. Crazy!


    It’s not been thought out properly. Once airside, to get to the lounges you go down and then up (or are signposted that way). It’s not necessary and if it is necessary it shouldn’t be. Any why is there a shuttle train out to the gate, but you walk back. Surely you could come back on the train as it returns?


    I actually like the Art in T5; it really lifts the terminal beyond a rather mundane functional space into something altogether rather impressive. But then I am not a peasant 😉

    As a showcase for British Art I think it works well, and helps set the right tone for premium passengers. I particularly like “The Cloud” (an old-style clicker board shaped like a cloud with reflective panels which change configuration) and “All the Time in World” (a massive bright blue world clock homage to Time) situated as you approach the South Lounges. Well worth a trip even if you don’t have lounge access.

    The many levels are an annoyance, but probably are there because of the lack of space on the LHR site – though it’s a huge building the floor plan is quite small for an airport terminal with that capacity; building up was the only option, and hence the need for all the lifts and escalators which does not typify the experience in most greenfield site airports.

    The upside of this is an impressive double height mezzanine space which is what allows an excellent view of the apron and the airport in general; so there is a real sense of progressing towards your aircraft and ultimate destination, even if that progress is somewhat alpine.

    Sadly, only those travelling with Concorde Room cards or travelling First (nb no longer written FIRST as this is now rebranded in a softer lower case logo) manage to escape directly from security by turning right after the scanners in South Security.

    When you are next there you will notice a discrete door which leads directly into the Holy of Holies.

    There, private cabanas, fireplaces, high backed club chairs and a Boardroom decked out with chairs taken from the Rocket herself wait to pamper elite travellers while they wait for their Elemis Spa pre-flight massage.

    The rest of us must trundle through the terminal, past – and what a surprise this is – all the shops. For this you have the Spanish owned monopoly BAA to thank.

    Somebody mentioned the 90% of travellers who don’t have lounge access; in fact, in this terminal the proportion of premium travellers will be among the highest.

    This is not so much the case for short haul (where only full fare, Silver and Gold cardholders get access) or European services where Club Europe are allowed in. But certainly on longhaul aboard BA these are the dominant force.

    Just take a look at a BA 747 seat map; most of the floor area is dedicated to Club World and First, especially since the abolition of the “Low-J” configuration. Just 20 of its 60 rows are for economy passengers:


    To be fair, the shops are a great showcase for British goods, and have a very high standard of finish. But I am not so sure the prices are all that competitive, even without tax. At least it gives those without lounge access something to do while waiting for their flight.

    I have not myself yet been out to T5B, but I would imagine the reason for the walk back is because the train is in an area which is secure for outbound pax, whereas once you have travelled back to the main terminal you must clear security once more and are therefore not secure; though having a moving walkway would at least have seemed prudent for tired arriving passengers.

    It is certainly not the perfect air terminal, but no matter what you think of T5 is impressive, and once the glitches have been sorted out will be a great asset to both British Airways and this country.


    I hear BA is going to run its T5 advertisements after all – maybe they just delayed them so they could be edited to include the travellers in cardboard boxes and piles of lost luggage 😉


    Are you serious? I know they have sorted the baggage problems… for now, but is it really a good idea to start shouting about a terminal that’s not even seen how its long haul services will cope yet?! One of the reasons BA got so much stick in the first place is because they told us all T5 would some sort of messiah – don’t build yourself up for another kicking BA!


    Another dreamy Sunday night at T5. Dropped off at far end to use 1st class check-in. Some as yet unexplained snafu with my travel dept and BA resulted in 20mins of fruitlessly trying to check-in. Guided back to ticket sales (getting late and close to flight cut off) in zone E which if you haven’t been is the 1/2kilometer walk back along terminal. No line but lots of people being helped at desks by staff. Vexed man races up behind me shouting into his mobile. I hear him ask to jump queue ie me. I tell BA staff I won’t to give up my place as I was in danger of missing flight and did not yet have ticket. The BA employee ignored me, and put him ahead of me. I was upset. She showed incredibly poor judgement and had no answer when I questioned her reasoning and why she did not have manners enough to at least ask me to allow him ahead.



    What a wonderful place T5 seems to be. Having been lucky enough to avoid the bedding in period, I pitched up at T5 this morning ready for a flight to Berlin. And from the second I stepped off the tube, I was impressed. It certainly has its ‘new terminal’ smell and everything seemed to be smooth and plush and open and working properly and impressive.

    With not a queue in sight, I whizzed through security – even their clear plastic bags seemed newer – and was in the Galleries lounge munching away on breakfast within 5 minutes of leaving the Picadilly Line.

    The lounge, as it should be, was spacious and impressive with all the practical luxuries one would hope for. And the delayed flight meant we got to sample breakfast AND lunch. Having missed the early T5 debacle, I can happily say my first experience of it is absolutely positive.


    I’d rate T5 as a slightly below par experience for a modern terminal, counter balanced by some of the best premier lounges in the world.


    When I used T5 in July2010 I noticed that access to the lounges was by invitation only; because I checked in online I did not get such an invitation and wandered throughout the terminal until I discovered my departure gate. As a first class passenger I felt I deserved better. In future I will be frequenting Heathrow only as a last resort. The baggage retrieval arrangements were what I can only imagine were third world standard.


    Your lounge access entitlements are clearly printed on your online Boarding Pass, and also clearly set out during the purchase and Manage My Booking process.

    Had you any checked luggage you should also have been told by the agent where the lounge was, even if you didn’t use the F check in (and if travelling internationally you would have had to have your Passport checked, so should have encountered a BA employee at some stage prior to security?)

    Every BA First Class passenger is entitled to enter the Concorde Room, and has access to all the five lounges in T5.

    It’s unfortunate you did not see the right information, but when in doubt it’s best to ask someone to confirm your understanding, rather than leaving feeling you “deserved better”.

    The baggage retrieval processes at T5 are among the world’s most advanced, and last time I arrived with luggage my cases were on the belt before I arrived in the Baggage Hall (about 10 mins from disembarking).

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