Heathrow Baggage Meltdown Again - At New Terminal 5


"It is all tried, tested and ready to go," or so said Tom Garside two weeks ago in reference to the new state of art baggage handling system at London Heathrow's new Terminal 5. Garside is the head of systems and integration for BAA, the airport operator, at Terminal 5.

For the last six months, both BAA and BA (British Airways) have been testing the baggage system and both have been supremely confident that it, the other Terminal 5 IT support systems, along with the staff were all up to speed ready to work on Terminal 5's opening day - today.

However, BAA and BA are blaming "technical glitches" and "staff familiarisation" issues for causing "teething problems" which have in turned created baggage delays of up to three hours and the cancellation of at least 34 flights by early this afternoon. In fact, except for the new digs, it sounds like a normal day over at BA's old Terminal 4.

In one reported case, a plane on its way to Los Angeles was still on the tarmac after more than three hours waiting for its luggage to be loaded. Unfortunately, it appears that the baggage system software indicated that the flight had already left. As a result, the bags which were ready to be loaded were returned instead to the terminal - I guess to be sent on other planes going to LA.

BA chief executive Willie Walsh was quoted today as saying "I'm absolutely delighted with the way things have gone so far. I think it's great."

If today was a great day, I really would hate to see what Walsh thinks is a bad day.


The wait time for luggage reached up to four hours late this afternoon.

In addition, the mounting problems with its baggage system has now forced BA to announce that check-in of all hold luggage would be suspended on Thursday evening. According to BA, "We are experiencing significant disruption to flights departing from Heathrow Terminal 5 due to problems associated with processing customersâ'' hold baggage. As a result, customers due to travel on flights departing Terminal 5 this evening will be able to travel with hand baggage only."

BA went on to say, "We are extremely sorry for the inconvenience this has caused our customers."

No news on whether BA chief executive Willie Walsh still thinks it has been a great opening day.


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Robert Charette
Spotsylvania, Va.
Willie D. Jones
New York City