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Terminal 5

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The Dream

Until recently the largest construction project in Europe - the size of 50 football pitches, the much vaunted überterminal at London's Heathrow airport was officially opened with great fanfare by Auntie Betty on the 14 March 2008. Nearly twenty years in planning and build at a cost of £4.3 billion, Terminal 5 will allegedly cater for 30 million passengers per annum and will enable the airport to handle up to 90 million passengers annually.

T5 is the largest airline lounge complex in the world, with over eleven miles of conveyor belt for passengers' luggage, and luxury shopping and catering facilities. BA Chief Executive Willie Walsh said: 'Terminal Five is a fantastic facility and our customers will really enjoy the space, comfort and convenience it offers. 'Providing they can actually get in to the place of course.'

It was hoped that T5 would transform the 'passenger experience', making ridiculous check-in queues and security measures a thing of the past. However British Airways (BA) will be the sole airline to use it and T5 was already too small to accommodate all their flights, so some BA passengers will still have to use other terminals. Another problem lies in the lack of access to the gates for the aircraft. All well thought out then?

Bit of a Wobble

One of the most controversial aspects of T5 is the introduction of biometric security measures, with all domestic passengers fingerprinted before being allowed to board. This is allegedly to prevent the possibility of Domestic passengers travelling on International flights (or vice versa) since there is no segregation in the departure lounge. Brilliant. Another great idea. This fingerprinting, however, caused much gnashing of teeth in certain quarters and a shit stink ensued which saw BA back down on the DNA swabs and hoop inspections - just to fly to fucking Inverness.

BA hoped that T5 could deliver a calm, stress-free flying experience, but Day 1 changed that when it all went tits up within seconds of the doors opening for business. The baggage system disappeared up its own arse, as handlers - rightly fearing chaos - threw sickies, thereby actually exacerbating the problem.

Tits Up

Nearly forty flights in and out of the terminal were cancelled and passengers were restricted to carrying hand luggage and told that they would have to leave checked-in bags for collection at a later time, or else rebook their flights.

A red-faced Willie Walsh was back on the air: British Airways flights from Heathrow Terminal 5 will depart with hand baggage only due to problems associated with processing customers' baggage. British Airways apologises to customers for the problems during Terminal 5's first day of operations following one of the most complex and largest airport moves in history.

So Willie, it was nothing to do with piss poor preparation then? Moving all your ops in a one-er? Never heard of trickle feed or prototyping?

Willie went on to describe the chaos as mere 'teething problems', and it became apparent that the Cake and Arse Party was due to several factors:

  • Baggage handlers' IDs were not recognised by computers and were not able to log on to the handling system, resulting in flights taking off without bags.
  • Handlers could not get to their workplace because they could not access the car parks or get security clearance.
  • Confusion over the complex layout of the building and handling teams were unable to rectify the luggage backlog which left passengers in Arrivals... and their kit on the aircraft.
  • Lack of the baggage pallets and u/s carousels.
  • Delays in loading and unloading baggage led to delays in departures and arrivals.


All in all, the vast majority of the problems encountered could have been avoided had the management team decided upon a gradual phasing in of the new terminal and ensuring that its employees were fully conversant with the systems and layout before opening for business. But that's too much like logic and common sense - attributes frowned upon in today's fast-paced, cost-conscious corporate world.

Someone's head should roll for this embarrassing national fiasco - preferably the Chief Executive. What's the betting that the CEO is in line for a knighthood and an enormous pay rise? Watch this space. Roll on 2012. Ho ho!

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