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T5 countdown: The premium passenger

21 Feb 2008 by Mark Caswell

T5With the majority of its Heathrow passengers soon to be travelling through one dedicated terminal, British Airways has had to think seriously about how to handle its premium customers at T5. The result is a total of six lounges (or “Galleries”) costing £60 million – finishing touches are still being made to many of these areas, and some sections were inaccessible when I visited this week, but it is still possible to get a feel for the scale of the project. The lounges are capable of hosting up to 2,500 passengers – a 25 per cent increase in comparison with the lounges at Terminal 1 and 4.

CHECK-IN AND SECURITY

There are no premium check-in desks for business class passengers in T5 – British Airways believes it will be able to get all passengers, regardless of class of travel, from the terminal's entrance to being airside in an average of only ten minutes.

BA aims to achieve this by encouraging 80 per cent of passengers flying from the terminal, to either check-in online or use one of the 96 self-service kiosks (along with the same number of fast bag-drops). It has also increased the number of security lanes to 18 (including premium fast track lanes at either end of the terminal), compared with eight at T4. The security conveyor belts now have two exits – one for possessions which have passed the security check, and the other for baggage requiring further examination – to avoid queues of trays (and therefore people) stacking up.

I was also talked through the “no turning back” policy, which means checked baggage is transported downwards from the fast bag-drops rather than horizontally on conveyor belts, so passengers can then proceed forward towards security instead of having to go around the belted area.

As T5 is dedicated entirely to British Airways customers, passengers can choose to check-in anywhere within the terminal, although the airline anticipates most premium customers will gravitate towards the south end of the building, where the majority of the lounges and the separate first class check-in area are situated. The exception is for passengers heading to the domestic/shorthaul lounge, which is located at the north end, or those flying from satellite building Terminal 5B (linked to the main terminal by a 60-second underground transit ride and with its own lounge facilities).

AIRSIDE: THE LOUNGES

Once through security, premium passengers head upstairs towards one of three main lounges (the other three being the shorthaul departures lounge, the satellite lounge in T5B, and the Arrivals lounge). BA has commissioned several art works for the new lounges, with a constantly changing piece entitled Cloud hanging above the main escalators to the galleries. The five metre-long installation uses similar technology to “flip dot” information boards at railways stations, to create a wave-like appearance on its surface.Credit: Alex Delfanne/Artwise Curators 2008The upper level houses the Galleries Club lounge for Club World, Club Europe, Gold and Silver Executive Club members, while one floor down on the Pavilion level, is the Galleries First lounge for first class customers and Gold Executive Club members, along with the Concorde Room for first class passengers and “specially invited guests”. An Elemis Travel Spa, open to first and Club World passengers, as well as gold card holders on longhaul flights, is also located on this floor.

GALLERIES CLUB LOUNGE

This is the largest of the new lounges, with space for 830 passengers. Features include two Silver bars with Swarovski crystal chandeliers, fabrics by Osborne and Little, and a cinema which will be used to show sporting events. There is wifi internet access provided by BT Openzone throughout T5, and this is free in the new BA lounges.

In keeping with the “silent airport” policy at the new terminal, flights are not called from any of the lounges (it would after all get a little tedious to constantly hear “BA flight XX is now ready for boarding”), but as a result there is an increased number of departure boards to inform passengers, including in many of the shopping outlets.

GALLERIES FIRST LOUNGE

Credit: Alex Delfanne / Artwise Curators 2008Go down to the Pavilion level and you’ll find a huge “electroluminescent art wall” entitled All the Time in the World – a digital display showing world time zones on a striking blue background. To the left, passengers are welcomed into the Galleries First lounge by a curious talking point – two statues of black horses with lampshades on their heads, several more of which are dotted around the other galleries. This section has 540 seats, wooden floors, a terrace area, a Gold bar and Champagne bar complete with Swarovski crystal “bubbles” overhead. It also houses several more works of art including Oak Seasons, a series of 3D laser etched screens showing the growing cycle of the English Oak tree, and complete with "hidden" details including a leaf transformed into a roadmap of the UK.

CONCORDE ROOM

The plush Concorde Room can accommodate up to 156 guests and has a restaurant with privacy booths, digital imitation “fires”, a boardroom with genuine Concorde seats, a terrace area, and three relaxation “cabanas”, bookable up to two weeks in advance. Artwork here includes Pegasus and the Winged Lion – created to look like a stone carving of British Airways’ crest, it is in fact a slowly moving digital display bringing the the mythical characters to life.

Next door, the Elemis Spa promises facilities including massage chairs, “flying facials” and “cooling hot-stone therapies”. Finally, for arriving passengers, the Galleries Arrivals Lounge includes a full restaurant for first class passengers, self-service breakfast bar for Club World customers and gold card holders, more spa facilities, six “infinity” bathrooms, and 94 shower rooms with valet boxes for suit pressing.

An impressive offering – and it needs to be – all eyes will be on the new terminal when it opens next month, and frequent travellers will be eager to see how the T5 premium experience compares with the current offerings at T1 and T4.

For more information visit ba.com/terminal5.

Report by Mark Caswell

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