Fun with BAA

BAA is British Airports Authority.  They ‘run’ the main airports around London which include Heathrow, Gatwick and Standsted.  Unfortunately, Heathrow T5 is the centre of operations for British Airways.  I say ‘unfortunately’ because travelling through T5 is a thoroughly unpleasant experience and blights British Airways and Britian’s supposedly premiere airport.

I had the ‘pleasure’ of travelling through Heathrow T5 twice during my holiday to Thonon les Bains on Lac Leman which is reached via Geneva.  On paper, the flights look fine; catch the BA plane to Heathrow, two hours at Heathrow and then catch your onward flight to Geneva.  On the return journey, three hours are offered at Heathrow – little did I know it was to clear security.

On the way out to Geneva, the plane was delayed by nearly an hour waiting at the gate.  However, desipte a 2 hour transfer time (not including the extra delay) our bags failed to make the connection from Newcastle and didn’t travel with us.  That’s everybody who flew from Newcastle to Geneva, six in total; not one of us was joined by our bags on the flight.  The bags did eventually turn up on the next flight and were delivered to us after a 5 hour delay. The baggage company at Geneva were not surprised; it seems that bags are far more frequently delayed from T5 than any other airport in the developed world.

However, it only got worse on the way back.  First we were delayed in Geneva because there was no slot available at Heathrow.  Then, even when we were given a slot at Heathrow, when the plane arrived at the airport’s airspace we were delayed again.

Then the plane was parked away from the terminal as there were no stands available.  Normally buses await to take the passengers to the terminal.  Except there weren’t any.  For 30 minutes.   None of the ground staff seemed to have any sense of urgency.  The bus driver even seemed to wait with the bus full despite several panicked American passengers on short transfers – they didn’t stand a chance with T5.  But when we were finally delivered to the terminal the fun really began.  We didn’t get to the T5 shopping centre for another 30 minutes.

Queues seem to be the norm at T5.  Firstly, there was a ludicrous queue after getting to T5.  It transpired that at the head of this queue was a small woman asking people whether they were transferring to local or international flights.  She was completely pointless because the hall immediately behind her was full of signs directing you where to go if you were transferring to a local or international flight.  She had no purpose whatsoever.  Utterly unbelievable and the first 10 minutes of waiting.

Next we queued to have our boarding passes checked.  After that another queue to have our passports checked.  Finally, both the local and international passengers were shepherded to yet another security check.  Together.  Why we were split up into different queues is anybodies guess as both the national and international passengers had boarding card and passport checks.  The final security check is the one where you take your belt off, take your laptop out, etc.  This took another 15 to 20 minutes.  Why?  Why?  Because the staff were just slow.  Inept too, probably, but generally very, very slow at staring at the computer monitor that displays the innards of cases, jackets, purses and other assorted bags. Incredibly slow.  In Newcastle this queue usually takes about 5 minutes.  The queue for our machine was on 10 or so people long yet took nearly 20 minutes …  I dispaired.

All told from the moment of touching down to getting into T5 took over an hour; it would have been 30-40 minutes at best even if we had got to a stand.  What a disgraceful way of treating people arriving at supposedly the most advanced passenger terminal in the world.  I imagine the American passengers on short transfers missed their flights.  There bags almost certainly will have done.

However, once in T5 proper you understand that it isn’t for passengers to relax waiting for their flight.  No, it’s only purpose is to extract money; it’s simply a glorified shopping mall.  All we wanted to do was get some lunch and then find somewhere comfortable for our next flight.  Instead, there are precious few places to eat and virtually no where to actually sit.  Unless you have an executive lounge pass that is.  T5, which because of its size, should feel spacious, yet feels claustrophobic, cluttered, noisy and generally unpleasant.

Even when we boarded our flight to Newcastle the madness of Heathrow didn’t end.  We ended up staying a further hour at the stand and taxiing before we finally took off.  Because they are operating at full capacity.

That seems to be the problem.  There are simply too many passengers.  They don’t need another runway; they need less passengers.  The current ‘systems’ at T5 don’t seem to be able to cope.  Most of the staff have a ‘learned helplessness’ air around them.

Heathrow needs proper competition.  Maybe BAA needs to be broken up so that Gatwick and Stansted can offer real competition to Heathrow to force it to buck its ideas up and provide a proper service to its passengers.  The security theatre is a joke; I don’t feel more secure, just that I’m having my time wasted.  We are paying customers; yet we pay to be treated like cattle.  I’m not sure why we put up with it.  Yet another reason for competition, but perhaps in a different way.  If there was an airport that didn’t treat you like cattle and actually treated you like paying customers then I would definitely fly through there, even if it was a bit more expensive.

BAA is bad for Heathrow and bad for British Airways.  The sooner it is broken up the better.