updated 1/15/2008 12:19:23 PM ET 2008-01-15T17:19:23

British Airways showed off its new terminal at Heathrow Airport — on a five-story building with marble floors, 112 stores and restaurants, and large windows offering a view of Windsor Castle.

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Terminal 5 cost 4.3 billion pounds and took British airports operator BAA seven years to build. It is part of an ongoing effort to improve Heathrow, the world's busiest international airport, in time for the 2012 London Olympics.

The terminal will only serve BA customers and will handle its first flight March 27.

Robert Boyle, BA's commercial director, said Tuesday the airline cannot afford to have its reputation compromised by inadequacies at Heathrow, its home base.

"We have to compete with business class-only airlines, traditional ones and no-frill ones," Boyle told reporters before tour of the new terminal. "Each year, surveys of frequent flyers around the world praise BA and criticize Heathrow for its delays, poor baggage handling and crowded terminals."

Terminal 5's completion shows how hard cities such as London are willing to work to maintain their status as world business and tourist hubs, commissioning showcase structures that act as shopping malls, with art galleries, spas and Internet access.

Terminals can be profitable in an era of tightened security as travelers show up hours before their flights — and then shop or eat while waiting to take off.

Plans also are under way to replace Terminal 2, Heathrow's oldest, with a swanky new one called Heathrow East. Work is due to be completed before the Olympics.

Terminal 5 will include a quarter mile-long main building at the west end of Heathrow for domestic and short-haul flights, and two nearby satellite buildings that will primarily handle long-haul services. The three buildings will be connected by an underground shuttle.

The main building, which has a white steel roof that is 40 meters (yards) high, overlooks the green belt of the Colne Valley and provides a view of Windsor Castle, a principal official residence of Queen Elizabeth II. Visitors can also see the arc at Wembley Stadium.

Slideshow: London calling The terminal will have access to subway lines and the Heathrow Express train service into central London.

Heathrow Airport, which currently has four operating terminals and two main runways, handles more than 480,000 flights a year.

Only last year, London Mayor Ken Livingstone said Heathrow's dilapidated infrastructure and problems with flight delays and poor baggage handling were shaming the city because they typified "the English short-termism, lack of planning, lack of investment."

Britain's government is currently considering granting Heathrow permission to build a third runway.

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