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Sat, Mar 29, 2008

Meltdown! New Heathrow Terminal Causing Angst

British Airways Suffers Third Day Of Cancellations

By the time this is over, the well-documented problems in 1994 with automated baggage handlers at Denver's then-new International Airport -- including the system's propensity for hurtling missorted bags -- may look like a walk in the park compared to the ongoing, full-fledged breakdown at British Airways' new Terminal Five at London Heathrow.

For a third day in a row, passengers unfortunate enough to be flying out of the brand new terminal -- opened with great flourish two weeks ago, by none other than Queen Elizabeth II -- were likely to experience delays, frustrations, and flight cancellations.

At least some may also be able to take in a show... as at least one incident of a fistfight breaking out between BA staffers has been reported, according to The Press Association.

What's to blame for the awful case of terminal meltdown? It's difficult to pinpoint a single source of the agita, though teething pains with new systems at T5 -- intended to be the flagship terminal for British Airways, and the hub for most of its flights -- seem the likely catch-all scapegoat.

As a result, passengers stuck inside the gleaming terminal -- waiting overnight or longer for other flights -- have had plenty of time to take in the "thought and care" the Queen noted went into T5's design.

And they'd just as soon get the hell out.

"It feels like we are crash-landed here," said Thor Joergersen, stuck with his wife and two daughters in the new terminal. "We got here at 3am and our flight was supposed to leave at 7:15am, but it was cancelled and they didn't tell us.

"They didn't tell us where to go and we've been moving from queue to queue," he added to The Scotsman. "It's terrible."

Tony Pascoe said some of the scenes playing out in the new terminal amounted to a free-for-all. "None of the desks was open and we were told to stand in a queue," he said. "After standing there for God knows how long they opened one and people who had just walked into the terminal began jumping in. It was chaotic," he said.

"Everyone who had been queuing were annoyed and a lot of jostling and arguing started," he added. "It is diabolical. I am a frequent traveller and this is my worst experience ever -- it is absolutely shocking."

British Airways told fliers Saturday to expect far fewer cancellations on Sunday -- with "only" 37 cancelled flights. While not a figure to be proud of by any stretch of the imagination, that's a marked improvement over Saturday... which saw 57 out of 347 British Airways flights scrapped.

"British Airways plans to operate a larger proportion of its Heathrow Terminal 5 flying program on Sunday, with 294 out of 331 scheduled flights operating," said a British Airways spokeswoman. "All long haul flights from Terminal 5 will operate as planned."

Perhaps it's appropriate this story includes a Queen... as no one is amused.



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