Chaotic opening of Heathrow's Terminal 5 could have been avoided, say MPs

The chaotic scenes at Heathrow's Terminal Five last spring could, and should have been avoided through better preparation and more effective joint working, the Transport Select Committee concludes.

In a report published today (3 November 2008), The opening of Heathrow Terminal 5, the Committee finds that the opening of Terminal 5 revealed serious failings on the part of both owner BAA and operator British Airways.

Problems were experienced with the baggage system, car parking, security searches and aspects of the building itself. The Committee says most of these problems were caused by either insufficient communication between owner and operator and poor staff training and system testing by BA.

MPs were astonished to discover that the idea of having joint operations meetings between BAA and BA only occurred as an afterthought, once things had started going wrong.

During the inquiry the Committee heard from BAA, BA and the trade union Unite. It is particularly critical of BAA's performance at its first appearance before the Committee, calling the executives "unhelpful and ill-prepared". BAA was subsequently called back to give further evidence.

The Committee also says that the Competition Commission's publication of its provisional findings in its inquiry into BAA reinforces the Committee's existing view that BAA is a monopoly and needs to be broken up.

British Airways and BAA have now instituted daily and weekly T5 operations meetings attended by senior BA and BAA managers and their teams to review daily progress.

Commenting on the report, the Chairman of the Committee, Louise Ellman MP said: "We acknowledge the inevitability of 'teething problems' but it is deeply regrettable that so many were allowed to bring the operation of Heathrow's newest terminal to a halt. What should have been an occasion of national pride was in fact an occasion of national embarrassment.

"We were struck by how much 'hoping for the best' BAA had engaged in prior to the opening of Terminal 5. We were also distinctly unimpressed by how ill-prepared they seemed for our first evidence session. They should have been prepared to give us a full and comprehensive explanation.

"We are glad that BAA and British Airways have now taken measures to improve communications but it is deeply regrettable that these steps were not taken before the opening."

Notes to Editors:

€ BAA opened Heathrow's fifth terminal on March 27 at a cost of £4.3 billion. Passengers had been promised a "calmer, smoother, simpler airport experience". Multiple problems however meant that on the first day of operation alone, 36,584 passengers were frustrated by the "Heathrow hassle" that Terminal 5 had been designed to eliminate.

€ In its recent report on The future of BAA (HC 119), the Committee criticised BAA's lack of contingency planning and in a report on Passengers' Experiences of Air Travel (HC 435) in 2007 it noted that: "lost and mishandled baggage is one of the biggest areas of complaint for air passengers."


1. Committee Membership is as follows: Mrs Louise Ellman (Chairman) (Liverpool Riverside), Mr David Clelland (Tyne Bridge), Clive Efford (Eltham), Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering), Mr John Leech (Manchester Withington), Mr Eric Martlew (Carlisle), Mr Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin), David Simpson (Upper Bann), Mr Graham Stringer (Manchester Blackley), Mr David Wilshire (Spelthorne).

2. Transcripts of evidence sessions for the Committee's inquiries can be found on the Committee website at:

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