The first day of operation of Heathrow Airport's brand new Terminal 5 has descended into what has been described as "chaos", after problems with the terminal's baggage system caused numerous flight cancellations and delays.
Late on Thursday afternoon, all luggage check-in at the flagship new facility was suspended after a day when thousands of passengers faced hours of delays following the breakdown of the terminal's sophisticated baggage system.
According to a statement released by British Airways, the terminal's exclusive user, the terminal's baggage belt broke down and passengers were forced to manually check-in their bags.
This failure resulted in over 30 flights being cancelled, and delays of up to four hours for passengers using the airport. It was reported that some passengers' baggage had gone missing.
BA said more flights could be cancelled through Thursday evening as the knock-on effect of the problems was felt.
It was reported that only three flights would depart from the terminal on Thursday evening, due to the extent of the delays.
The airline's statement said they were experiencing "teething problems". In addition to the baggage belt problem, the company said there were also issues with "staff familiarisation" that were also contributing to the delays.
Heathrow Terminal 5 'Mayhem'
The day started well enough - with the first arrival and departure taking place early in the morning on schedule.
However, problems soon started to mount up.
As early in the day as 0830 GMT, passengers were facing delays. Passengers on flights from the German cities of Frankfurt and Hamburg had to wait two hours to collect their baggage.
According to the BBC, this morning staff operating the baggage system could not log-in to the computers to allow them to operate the system. The BA statement also said that staff confusion with the layout of the new terminal contributed to the delays.
Subsequently, the "fast-drop" baggage belt system - which allows T5 passengers to check their own bags in - itself suffered a breakdown, which led to a backlog in the terminal's main baggage system. This was what led to BA suspending the check-in process late on Thursday afternoon.
One baggage worker told news agencies that there was "mayhem" at the terminal throughout the day.
The problems caused many domestic flights to be cancelled, as well as delays or cancellations to short-haul destinations such as Paris, Munich and Brussels. One flight to Los Angeles, which should have departed at 1005 GMT, was still waiting for its baggage to be loaded three hours later.
Some media agencies were also reporting that there were problems with paying at a car park, as well as a broken down escalator.
British Airways Apology to Terminal 5 Passengers
BA apologised profusely to passengers caught up in the Terminal 5 delays.
The airline said: "We would like to apologise to passengers for any disruption to their flights. [The delays are] not unexpected following one of the most complex and largest airport moves in history".
The chaotic opening day, and resulting bad publicity, will be viewed as embarrassing for both British Airways and BAA, who prior to the terminal's opening both made great play that the passenger facilties on offer at T5 would represent a sea change in the customer experience on offer at Heathrow, which in recent years has developed a reputation for long delays.
Source - Airport International's London Reporter
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