I’ve seen Terminal 5 for myself

In addition to being curious as to whether BA’s flagship terminal was still struggling under a baggage-related cloud, my inner aviation nerd wanted to see if it was as impressive as the pictures suggested.

As I emerged bleary-eyed from the minicab at 6am in front of Heathrow’s newest complex, I wasn’t disappointed. Even from the outside, T5 really is a magnificent building.

Inside, everything was shiny and new; spotless as well. It looked like how a terminal at Heathrow – one of the world’s busiest airports – ought to look. I only had time for window shopping but there were many passengers browsing the wide array of retail outlets despite the hour.

I had checked in online the night before and although it was slightly annoying that the self-service machine couldn’t dispense my boarding pass, collecting it from a BA staffer was painless and quick. I have to say, all the BA personnel I dealt with were incredibly friendly… although the cynic in me idly wonders they’re under strict instructions to be nice to everyone in the wake of the drama.

It was time then to check out the toilets. They were also great – clean, there were plenty of cubicles and they didn’t have the air of dinginess that marks those in other Heathrow terminals. The only complaint I had about them was the lack of bench space for someone with quite a bit of hand luggage and who needed to put on some much-needed makeup.

One of the cheery BA men had told me to go through security early as it gets quite busy at that time of the morning. I heeded his advice and found screening to be another painless experience.

However, I do have one gripe about security services at Heathrow. If you’re going to insist passengers only carry liquids 100ml and below, how about you enforce that law? After going through the screening process, I discovered that a large aerosol can and a 200ml bottle of shampoo (mistakenly left in my bag) hadn’t been picked up by the people on the X-ray machine. They should have been. I don’t mind adhering to these rules – they’re there to protect us at the end of the day – but inconsistent enforcement and sheer incompetence makes a mockery of them.

When I flew out of Edinburgh today, I left the same toiletries in my bag to see what would happen. Surprise, surprise, they were both found, confiscated and my bag X-rayed again.

I digress. Security services aside, I was very impressed by my T5 experience by the time the plane was ready to board. But then, as we were waiting to push back from the stand, an announcement from the captain: the “state-of-the-art” baggage facility had failed (again) and our flight was going to be delayed.

I had to laugh; the situation was vaguely ludicrous. Yes, the problems that occurred when T5 opened were huge but that was more than two months ago and yet baggage issues still affected a short-haul flight to Glasgow, early on a Wednesday morning in May, that was only half-full. It’s not as if it was a 400-passenger planeload bound for Australia at Christmas.

The captain was apologetic but you could hear the frustration in his voice and also sense a level of disapproval from many of the other passengers (most of whom were business men and women). I wasn’t in any rush but I’m sure there were many on board who were and many who have probably been through this more times than they’d care to in recent times.

Thankfully the delay was only 15 minutes and after making up time in the air, we were only about five or ten minutes late when we landed in Glasgow. However, it’s not good enough. I know for a fact we weren’t the only flight affected by the baggage handling system that week – another journalist on the press trip I was attending in Scotland was delayed at T5 by 1.5 hours the previous evening.

I genuinely hope BA sorts the baggage system out once and for all as T5 is a fantastic building with wonderful services. It would be a real shame if it continues to be overshadowed by this fundamental problem.

Picture source

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