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Heathrow's T5 is no longer shaming BA

The extensive problems that London Heathrow Airport's new Terminal 5 experienced when it opened in March have all been solved, says sole tenant British Airways.
BA has just opened a dedicated business-class check-in area in T5 and is now transferring to T5 its flights to 41 long-haul destinations, a move originally planned for the end of April.
BA has just opened a dedicated business-class check-in area in T5 and is now transferring to T5 its flights to 41 long-haul destinations, a move originally planned for the end of April. British Airways
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British Airways’ flights to London from 10 U.S. gateway cities will begin using the spectacular new Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport this month and next, along with flights from 31 other long-haul destinations.

The phase-in of most intercontinental flights, originally scheduled to transfer from Terminal 4 at the end of April, was put off after a truly chaotic opening in March. Characterized by staff shortages; long, long lines at check-in; hundreds of cancelled and delayed flights; an estimated 28,000 bags piled up or lost, at least for a while; and substantially angrier-than-normal travelers, the chiefly British word “shambolic” aptly described the situation.

But British Airways officials say T5 is operating smoothly now. “We’ve had more than eight million customers through Terminal 5, and have received great feedback,” said Paul Nickson, BA’s Terminal 5 customer experience manager. “It’s working well now.”

The airline, sole tenant of the $8-billion terminal complex, is currently operating 420 weekday flights at T5, accommodating about 80 percent of its London passengers. On peak summer days, about 65,000 passengers were using the new facility.

After the transfer of flights from 29 destinations on September 17 and 12 more on October 22, BA will operate 510 daily flights at Terminal 5, serving 70,000 to 80,000 passengers a day.

In recent months, British Airways officials say, they have been consistently beating initial targets for both ease and speed of check-in during departures and for baggage retrieval on arrival. With 96 check-in kiosks and another 140 customer service desks, including 90 “fast bag drops,” travelers appear to move quickly through check-in and pass easily through security. Passengers using self-service kiosks and leaving their bags at fast bag drops are achieving a 10-minute target for completing check-in and the security process, an official says.

Dedicated business-class check-in
One change just made to the terminal is the creation of a new dedicated check-in zone for BA’s Club World and Club Europe business-class passengers. The terminal opened with a dedicated First Class check-in zone but no separate business-class check-in area. Because passengers can check in at any kiosk or customer service desk, offering speed and flexibility, the airline thought it didn’t need a separate business-class check-in, an official says.

But “business class passengers missed the dedicated desks,” he said. So an area at the far end of the terminal next to First Class check-in has been redesigned exclusively for business travelers to check in.

Because of the rectangular design of the main terminal — with parked aircraft plainly visible through the glass walls — many of its 24 gates can be reached within minutes of clearing security. The airline’s guide is 10 minutes to a main-terminal gate and 15 minutes to gates in the satellite terminal, BA says, but most passengers would take much less time — unless they stop at one of the 112 restaurants and shops.

The layout, and direct access from aircraft to the terminal, also helps speed baggage delivery times. The airline is generally beating its initial targets for baggage delivery — 15 to 25 minutes from first to last bag for short-haul flights and 15 to 35 minutes from first to last bag for international flights. BA hopes to maintain those targets when it begins handling more bags associated with long-haul flights.

Satellite terminals
Besides using the 24 gates in the main terminal (officially known as T5A), British Airways also is operating about 60 movements a day now from satellite T5B’s 16 gates. It is located directly across the tarmac from the main terminal and is connected by an underground rail system, which moves passengers between the two buildings in 30 seconds. With the transfer of flights over the next two months, the satellite terminal will be handling approximately 150 long-haul arrivals and departures a day.

The terminal buildings’ design, with no piers to maneuver around, also expedites the arrival and departure of flights, as does the location of Terminal 5 itself. The terminal is situated between Heathrow’s two main runways, cutting down on the considerable taxi time often required to get to and from Terminal 4.

The airline is using a small number of remote aircraft stands, requiring passengers to board coaches to their aircraft, and that will increase a bit in October, an official says. But use of remote stands will be far lower than at Terminal 4 and will be reduced once a second satellite terminal (T5C) is opened in May 2010.