Monday, November 3, 2008

UK's House of Commons Calls Heathrow's Terminal Opening "National Embarrassment"

The shambolic opening of London Heathrow Airport's Terminal 5 was a "national embarrassment", MPs said in a report published Monday.

The House of Commons Transport Committee slammed British Airways and airports operator BAA for "serious failings" that led to flight cancellations, tens of thousands of lost bags, and long queues when the 4.3 billion pound complex opened on March 27.

"What should have been an occasion of national pride was in fact an occasion of national embarrassment," said committee chairman Louise Ellman.

The committee said more than 36,000 passengers were hit by the chaos and more than 23,000 bags had to be manually sorted before being returned to their owners.

There were problems immediately after the terminal opened, mostly with its baggage handling system.

It was not until April 8 that BA was able to offer a full short-haul flight schedule in and out of the terminal, with the chaos costing the airline at least 16 million pounds, according to its own estimates.

The report principally blamed poor communication between BA and BAA, noting that joint meetings between the two companies were not held over Terminal 5 until after the complex opened.

Noting a competition watchdog report in August that recommended Spanish-owned BAA sell three of its seven British airports, the committee said Terminal 5's opening "reinforces the view we have previously expressed, that BAA is a monopoly that needs to be broken up."

Heathrow, the world's biggest airport in terms of international passenger traffic, is the jewel in the crown of BAA's British portfolio.

"The opening of T5 revealed serious failings on the part of both BAA and BA," the report concluded.

"Like both organisations, we acknowledge the inevitability of 'teething problems' but deeply regret that so many were allowed to bring the operation of Heathrow's newest terminal to a halt."

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