Simon Calder: Terminal tangle afflicts Britain's busiest airport


Terminal 5 at Heathrow is, by the unchallenging standards of UK airport architecture, magnificent. Not only is the £4.3bn structure a spectacular, spacious celebration of flight – it is also a great place to change planes. Whether you are going from Newcastle to New York or Chicago to Chennai, the all-important "minimum connecting time" is just one hour. In 60 minutes, your bag is transferred in the gigantic sorting office below the terminal, while you are free to explore the shops and restaurants, or simply revel in the space and light "T5" affords.

IAG, comprising British Airways and Iberia, has the building to itself. Before it opened, chief executive Willie Walsh predicted correctly that "The customer experience at Terminal 5 will rival, if not exceed, that at any airport in the world". His colleague, BA commercial director Robert Boyle, promised at the time: "Customers can look forward to a calmer, smoother, simpler airport experience at Heathrow".

Not any more, they can't.

Before the shiny new facility opened, BA's operations were clumsily spread between Terminals 1, 3 and 4. Terminal 5 soon soaked up almost all BA's flights, save for a handful in Terminal 3. The takeover of BMI earlier this year means that, temporarily, BA is flying from all the odd-numbered terminals at Heathrow. I imagined that as soon as BMI was devoured and assimilated, its former home at Terminal 1 would be relinquished.

Wrong. It's back to the bad old days, everyone. Instead of concentrating almost everything at Terminal 5 with a bit of overspill to Terminal 3, BA is moving a wide range of short-haul flights to Terminal 1. The resulting tangle is a nightmare for many passengers on connecting flights to and from UK domestic airports. Belfast to Bangkok? You'll be arriving at 1 and departing from 3. Lusaka to Leeds: that's 5 to 1, the longest inter-terminal journey it is possible make without leaving Heathrow.

All the other UK domestic routes stay in Terminal 5, but some popular European connections – to Basel, Lyon and Toulouse – move to Terminal 1. Add to the tangle the random selection of Eastern European and Far Eastern cities served by BA from Terminal 3, and an ever-higher proportion of BA passengers will find their "minimum connecting time" is extended to 90 minutes, and that they have to take a bus across the airfield. Good luck if your inbound flight arrives late: perhaps inter-terminal sprints could become an Olympic event. Worse still, the chances of baggage going astray rises the more complex the journey it has to make.

BA says that all baggage at Terminal 5 is loaded in containers. The the Airbus jets picked up as part of taking BMI off Lufthansa's hands are designed for manual loading, and cannot be used at Terminal 5. The airline hopes that when the much-delayed Terminal 2 finally reopens (scheduled for 2014), the extra capacity created will allow other carriers to shuffle around so that BA can condense its operations into one-and-a-bit terminals. Will it succeed? Terminology seems as inexact a science as astrology.

Speed to Leeds

Did "Leeds" leap out at you from that selection of cities? It should have done, because after 34 years British Airways returns in December to the Heathrow-Leeds/Bradford route. At present, business travellers from Brazil, China or the US heading for West Yorkshire are currently told they can change planes anywhere they like, so long as it isn't London.

The absence of any connection between Leeds and the nation's capital is as absurd as Cologne having no air link with Berlin, or Bordeaux with Paris. BA is righting this wrong with four flights a day – but the schedule is not exactly generous. The first southbound flight is at 9.25am, the last northbound at 8pm, giving barely nine hours on the ground. Across the Pennines, passengers from Manchester can depart as early as 5.50am, and return as late as 9pm. Who, you may wonder, would ever fly from either Leeds or Manchester for a trip to London? Someone keen to save cash. A flight booked in advance saves £100 or more compared with East Coast and Virgin Trains, who give no deals on rush-hour trains, however early you commit.

Not such a novelty

"New flights" is how BA describes a range of services this winter: Heathrow to Seoul, starting 2 December, to Zagreb beginning a week later and from Gatwick to Barcelona in February. None is new; BA has chosen to resuscitate them. No word yet about which destinations will drop off the map to make room for them.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Events Coordinator / Junior Events Planner

    £24K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Events Coordinator ...

    Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: Chief Executive Officer

    Salary 42,000: Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: The CEO is responsible ...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Day In a Page

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?