Image: Facilities for premium-class travelers
British Airways
British Airways' glamorous Heathrow Terminal 5 facilities for premium-class travelers include the gorgeous Champagne Bar for first-class passengers.
updated 3/25/2008 6:05:13 PM ET 2008-03-25T22:05:13

The March 27 launch of flight operations at London Heathrow Airport's new Terminal 5 will greatly improve the travel experience for millions of British Airways passengers at the world's busiest international airport.

Catering for 30 million passengers a year, the gleaming new Terminal 5 (T5) is five times the size of BA's current long-haul hub at Terminal 4 (T4), and on a stand-alone basis would be Europe's sixth-busiest airport.

When the new $8.6 billion state-of-the-art terminal opens its doors to passengers, its sole airline tenant BA will focus on transforming the customer experience at its global hub and trying to reintroduce long-forgotten glamour to air travel, especially for its higher-fare premium customers.

The Galleries lounges
A key element in this will be the showpiece first- and business-class Galleries lounges. Built at a cost of $120 million and accommodating up to 2,500 people, these swish hideaways form the largest, most luxurious airport lounge complex in the world.

Designed from top to bottom to pamper premium travelers in luxurious surroundings, they are adorned with Swarowski crystal chandeliers, paintings from BA's 1,500 art-work collection, specially commissioned works by young artists, faux fireplaces and even four life-size wooden horses with heads crowned by lamps.

Three Galleries Club lounges are reserved for premium cabin passengers and silver and gold members of BA's Executive Club frequent-flier program. Each includes a 20-seat cinema showing sport and films and offer complimentary food and drink, Wi-Fi access and computer and other on-the-move business services.

Up a notch is the Galleries First lounge. Open to BA's first class and gold frequent fliers, it sports a bar covered in gold leaf, a wine gallery offering regular tasting sessions and a champagne bar. There's also a kid's zone, designed by the design company El Ultimo Grito, with plasma screens and a play station; and an Elemis travel spa, with aromatherapy treatments and shiatsu massage.

Finally, for first-class passengers only, the resplendent Concorde Room includes a boardroom that can be reserved, a restaurant, a Concorde bar and three private hotel-style bedrooms, each with its own bathroom.

It will, of course, take more than pure pampering to attract premium passengers and restore customer service. BA had the worst performance among leading European airlines for flight delays last year, with 46 percent of its long-haul flights arriving or departing more than 15 minutes late.

BA aims for fast passenger 'flow-through'
The airline is working to restore its tarnished image by exploiting the benefits of T5's "flow-through" layout to get passengers from the terminal entrance through security to the departure lounge in only 10 minutes.

With T5 providing almost 100 self-service kiosks and bag-drop points and 20 security screening points, BA claims that check-in will be faster than at any other Heathrow terminal. Under a new arrangement designed to help improve on-time performance, passengers will not be allowed to go through security if they don’t arrive there at least 35 minutes before their flight departure times.

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Once through security, passengers will take a short walk to the shops, restaurants and lounges and then to the boarding gates.

T5 sports the perennial airport retail outlets, including Thomas Cook and Travelex currency exchange, WHSmith for news and magazines, Boots pharmacy and Duty Free. High-end retail outlets include Kurt Geiger, Prada, Tiffany’s only European airport outlet and a Harrods department store. Food offerings run the gamut from fast-service — though there is no McDonalds or Burger King — to Plane Food, Gordon Ramsay’s first airport restaurant.

Biometric checks obligatory
Reflecting the challenging times in which we live, biometric checks will be de rigueur for domestic travelers. At check-in (or after immigration for passengers arriving from abroad), a photograph and four finger-prints will be taken. Then, just before boarding the aircraft, the fingerprinting process will be repeated and each passenger's photograph will be compared with his or her face to ensure the person boarding the aircraft is the same one who checked in.

It is yet to be seen whether BA will replace its current chaotic boarding system in favor of the “zone” boarding concept that has proved so successful for U.S. carriers in reducing congestion and shortening the embarkation process.

BA has also to improve its dismal baggage performance. Last year, BA lost 26.5 bags for every 1,000 passengers, giving it the worst record among large European airlines. T5’s state-of-the-art baggage handling system is the largest in Europe and can handle 12,000 bags an hour along 11 miles of conveyor belts, with a separate fast-track network to race late bags through the terminal at 31 mph.

BA's baggage performance aims
With this new system and 92 percent of its flights operating from the same terminal, BA is aiming for a 50 percent reduction in lost and delayed bags over the coming year and, impressively, to deliver all bags off every flight within 30 minutes of arrival. Helpfully, baggage carousel displays will display specific delivery information right down to “This is the last bag.”

Even though T5 is equivalent in size to London's Hyde Park, the expansion of BA's flight network and frequencies since it was first designed means that the terminal can't house the airline's entire Heathrow operation.

As a result, some short-haul and long-haul services will be moving from T1 and T4 to Terminal 3 during the year ahead and passengers on about 20 percent of BA’s flights at T5 will be bussed from departure gates to planes, rather than being able to access them by air bridges. Eventually, when T5's second satellite pier is completed in 2010, all BA's flights will operate from T5.

© 2013 Imaginova Corp.


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