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Wed, Apr 02, 2008

British Airways Woes Continue At Heathrow's T5

Over 20,000 Pieces Of Luggage Missorted

British Airways canceled 54 more flights at its gleaming new Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport on Monday as it struggled with a problem which sounds like deja vu to long-time US fliers -- a computerized baggage-handling system that has already helped misdirect at least 15,000 pieces of luggage.

Remember Denver International? Where they fought the machines for a decade, and finally tore them out? Well, this is a lot like that, but with a British flavor. And fistfights.

The New York Times reports BA has now canceled more than 250 flights in the five days since last Thursday, when the new terminal opened to the public. The teething problems could not come at a worse time for British Airways, which is already battling the high fuel prices and declining consumer confidence which effect the entire industry.

Things didn't improve much for Tuesday, either... as BA scrapped a full 13 percent of its scheduled flights out of the new terminal, destined to be the hub for the airline's operations at Heathrow. A British Airways spokeswoman said another 50 flights were to be cancelled Wednesday.

For its part, BA is bringing in some outside help to deal with the luggage mess. According to Bloomberg, BA has enlisted a cadre of companies and volunteers -- including none other than global cargo hauler FedEx -- to help sort 20,000 pieces of lost and misrouted baggage, and (hopefully) return them to their rightful owners.

"We are making progress on the backlog but getting bags back to passengers is complicated and quite time-consuming," BA spokeswoman Sophie Greenyer said.

Even if the situation improves drastically in the coming days, BA will still suffer economic ripples for weeks to come. Analyst Gert Zonneveld of Panmure Gordon in London estimates BA could lose $50 million US directly attributed to the problems at its new terminal.

There's also the PR issue to contend with. As Hartford (CT) Courant blogger Jeanne LeBlanc puts it, "It seems  you might as well throw your suitcase over a cliff as hand it to British Airways at Heathrow. At least you'd know what happened to it."



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