More flights axed as terminal travel misery continues

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The Independent Online

Passengers endured another day of travel misery at Heathrow's new £4.3bn Terminal 5 (T5) as British Airways axed flights for the second day running.

Admitting his airline had "got things wrong" after yesterday's disastrous opening day at the new facility, British Airways chief executive Willie Walsh warned of further flight cancellations tomorrow.

Adding that he would not be resigning, Mr Walsh said that the planned move of more of BA's Heathrow operations to the new terminal at the end of April was "under review".

Arguments broke out among passengers in long, early-morning queues today as BA struggled to recover from the chaos of Thursday, which had seen the airline cancel 34 return flights and suspend checked-in luggage operations.

BA had to axe 36 return flights today - all of them short-haul - but at least passengers on flights that did leave were able to check in hold luggage.

There were also further problems today with staff having difficulties getting through security.

The Conservatives called for an inquiry into the "chaos and confusion", while the British Chambers of Commerce said T5 was a "PR disaster for London and the UK".

The GMB union asked the public not to take out their frustrations on BA staff who were "doing their best to cope with what looks like technical difficulties".

Vanderlande Industries that has helped design and supply the baggage system at T5 would make no comment today, and merely referred callers to British Airways or Heathrow operator BAA.

Alstec, the company operating the bag-handling systems, would also not comment.

The worst of the disruption came early today with some passengers missing flights after claiming there were not enough desks open, or that they were given wrong directions to the departure hall.

Tony Pascoe, 35, from Witney, Oxfordshire, arrived just after 4am today with his mother Ann for a holiday to Vienna - her first flight.

He said: "None of the desks were open and we were told to stand in a queue. 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.

"Everyone who had been queuing were annoyed and a lot of jostling and arguing started. Then the desk just crashed so everyone was stood there. Our flight was due to leave at 6.45am so I stood in one queue and my mum in another. Eventually they told us we weren't going to get on."

Having praised the operation at the new terminal in its opening hours yesterday, Mr Walsh was forced to conduct a series of damage-limitation interviews at T5 today.

He said: "I am not pointing the finger at BAA. Both British Airways and BAA made mistakes, but I am taking responsibility for the mistakes we made. If people want someone to point the finger at then they can point it at me. I didn't get any pleasure out of what happened yesterday."

When asked about whether he would resign his post Mr Walsh said: "I am going nowhere - I am going to make this work."

Mr Walsh said he was determined to "make this great building work", that lessons would be learnt from the opening and that the opening-day difficulties had resulted from "a combination of problems".

He went on: "Yesterday was definitely not British Airways' finest hour. We disappointed many people and I apologise sincerely. I take responsibility for what happened. The buck stops with me.

"Our performance was not good enough. We did not deliver for our customers and we should have. I would expect some disruption tomorrow, but I think it will get better every day as we become accustomed to the building and the quirks of the systems."