T5 problems spill over to rest of Heathrow

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The Independent Online

The Heathrow Terminal 5 debacle threatened today to engulf the whole of the airport and many of the airlines using it.

British Airways and Heathrow operator BAA announced that BA's planned move of its long-haul flights from Terminal 4 (T4) to Terminal 5 (T5) was being put back from April 30 to some time in June.

The delay will have an impact on the entire west London airport as it will affect BAA's refurbishment work at T4, the company's work on other Heathrow terminals and the timetable for the move of other airlines into T4.

BAA today talked to affected airlines amid concerns that some carriers could seek compensation.

T5 has been beset by problems since its opening on March 27, with hundreds of flights cancelled and thousands of bags still not returned to their owners.

Today BA and BAA said the BA transfer from T4 was being postponed to iron out problems and ensure passengers got high service standards.

BA chief executive Willie Walsh said both BA and BAA had made mistakes during the opening of T5 and that there were still problems to deal with.

BAA chief executive Colin Matthews said he regretted the postponement and recognised the impact it had on other airlines.

One of the affected airlines, bmi, reacted with fury to the delay, saying it was "outrageous and inconsiderate", that 50 airlines would be hit and the UK "was once again a laughing stock".

The Department for Transport urged BA and BAA to work together on the problem and to keep passengers informed, while the London Chamber of Commerce said postponing the transfer was "a difficult, but right decision".

Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB union, said: "We believe that this a very sensible decision and that it will allow time for everyone involved to make the necessary preparations for the move to take place successfully when it happens."

In the original April 30 plan, BA would have moved all its long-haul flights - 60 departures and 60 arrivals a day - to T5, leaving just its services to Bangkok, Singapore and Sydney in T4.

But it took only a few days of travel chaos at T5 for BA to review the April 30 timetable.

Mr Walsh said today: "We are making this decision in the interests of customers. Though T5 is now working well, we need to have confidence that good service can be maintained when the terminal is handling larger numbers of customers.

"It is only sensible to ensure that T5 is operating consistently at a high standard before the move begins."

Mr Matthews said: "BAA regrets this postponement, and we recognise the impact it has on other airlines, but we believe it is a wise precaution to ensure that passengers can have the maximum confidence once the move does take place.

"We will be working very closely with BA in the intervening period to ensure that result, as well as working with the other airlines to mitigate as much as possible the knock-on effects.

"BAA fully recognises that the inauguration of T5 has not been as smooth as we and BA would have wished. In the last few days, passengers have seen significant improvement and our goal is to complete that process as soon as possible before continuing the next phase of transforming the rest of the airport."

Bmi chief executive Nigel Turner said: "The UK is once again a laughing stock. This is an absolutely outrageous announcement by BAA and done with no thought, consideration or consultation of any other airline other than BA.

"The sequence of moves affects over 50 airlines, including bmi, at Heathrow. The programme and timescale of changes was agreed in joint consultation with all airlines that are now geared up to undertake the moves as agreed.

"BAA and BA have shown a total disregard for all other airlines and their passengers at Heathrow in coming to this decision because of their own shortcomings and their inability to implement an agreed plan."

Although BA's long-haul operation accounts for less than a quarter of its total flights at Heathrow, it represents around 50% of its passengers.