Anyone who has travelled through Heathrow in the last couple of months is unlikely to have found it a pleasant experience. A combination of recent security alerts at UK airports, the temporary closure of T4 last week due to a suspect package, and the already onerous hand luggage restrictions is enough to make even the most patient of travellers seek alternative routes, and there are few signs that the situation is going to get any better.
Last week BA admitted it had failed to cope with the extra security demands placed on its staff, with a record 23,000 bags being handled (or indeed mishandled) at T4 per day. The situation has become so acute that the airline has again resorted to shipping many of the bags to Milan Malpensa airport for distribution, with obvious delays in the bags reaching passengers.
BA says that the majority of the delayed bags are transfer luggage, where the bag has missed its onward flight, and it can be no coincidence that the airline has decided to increase the minimum connection times between terminals at Heathrow to reduce the likelihood of missed transfers. The change takes effect immediately for bookings made up until August 31, and means the minimum connection time for BA passengers transferring from T4 to T1 (and vice versa) will increase from 75 minutes to 90 minutes, with connections within either of these terminals set at a minimum of 75 minutes.
BA says that the current infrastructure is simply not designed to handle the increased number of bags caused by the security restrictions. Says a spokesperson:
"We have been handling 23,000 transfer bags at Heathrow per day with processes and systems which were designed to handle around 18,000 per day."
But this is not a new problem – according to the Association of European Airlines BA lost an average of 3,000 bags per day in 2006. We can only hope that the airline's move to T5 next year will ease the situation – if not it's likely more and more passengers will do their utmost to avoid Heathrow where possible.
Report by Mark Caswell