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Heathrow's Terminal 5, a British Airways monopoly, will open in less than six months' time. It is not a panacea for everything but is a huge improvement on the current BA operation which is spread over Terminals 1, 3 and 4.
A few destinations will remain in T3; to Australia, Barcelona, Helsinki, Lisbon, Madrid and Nice. A key advantage of selecting these particular services is being able to co-locate with key oneworld partners Qantas, Iberia and Finnair in the same terminal.
It is anticipated the short haul flights from Terminal 3 will be operated solely by Boeing 757 aircraft. BA says that by keeping these particular aircraft out of Terminal 5 it will reduce complexity and increase efficiency.
Approaching Terminal 5 by road for the first time is impressive. The location is ideal, just off the M25 and very close to the M4 junction.
Arrivals by private transport are swept upwards to a roof-top area on the same level as departures. It is quickly out of the car and, if you have checked in on-line, straight to the hold luggage point, which hopefully will not provide for any delays. For those carrying the one piece of hand luggage currently allowed it is onwards towards the paperwork security point and emigration.
The car park has some 4,000 spaces and BAA has invested in a range of technologies to make it stress-free, including bay monitoring to ensure a space is found quickly and a car finder service to help customers locate their lost car.
Terminal 5 has is own dedicated railway station with six platforms, two for the Heathrow Express (which includes courtesy transfer to the central area and T4), two for the Piccadilly Line Underground and two spare platforms safeguarded should rail links be extended to the west.
Natural light floods the platforms thanks to a transparent roof. Five 50-person lifts will transport passengers straight up to the departures hall.
British Airways says that customers are encouraged, where possible, to take public transport to Terminal 5. The re-opening of the check-in facility at Paddington would help considerably, particularly for those with luggage. However, it is estimated that within the foreseeable future 80% of travellers will deal with their paperwork on-line.
If you have not checked in prior to your arrival at the airport you can do this on automatic kiosks (with plenty of human assistance available). If you feel you cannot manage this, customer service desk facilities are available, which not only act as a check-in but doubles for flight changes, information and even bookings. Money can change hands. There are 96 kiosks and 140 desks.
BA has built a dedicated first class area at the southern-most point of the terminal with the lounges just the other side of security.
Terminal 5 is a joint venture between BA and BAA, in effect two managements for one building. There is a strong argument here to use the American system whereby an airline takes over a complete terminal. There would be no excuse for baggage problems: ”No it”s the other lot”s fault” cannot be used as a justification when something goes wrong.
BAA is enthusiastic in pointing out that Terminal 5 covers 50 soccer pitches. What is not so apparent is that it is one-third larger than Stansted with its extended building due to be completed next year. The planned throughput is the same. Heathrow T5 will be much more relaxing.
There are two entries to airside, one to the south and one to the north and 20 security machines. Just how many will be operating at one time remains to be seen.
The Smiths aTiX X-ray machines are impressive with a number of labour-saving devices intended to speed up the process. No stopping the system while suspect bags are taken off. With a press of a button these are whisked into what is in effect a secure siding. Even the bin return is automated. The multi-view X-ray inspection system in real-time automatically detects and pinpoints explosives as well as liquid substances in carry-on baggage. Smiths are a British success story and their equipment is used worldwide.
Terminal 5 is in fact three terminals linked by underground transit trains not unlike those at Stansted. Large signs remind passengers to allow ten minutes to reach Terminal B (which will open at the same time as the main complex) and 20 minutes for Terminal C (2010). Business class passengers can choose to wait either in a main area lounge or one nearer their departure gate.
In order to ensure that everything works on the opening day, BAA is now engaged in a process in which 15,000 pseudo-passengers will test every aspect of the new building, including car parking, check-in, baggage systems, way-finding and security. The guinea pigs are not paid and gain a memento. Recruiting has been no problem. T5 is a popular day out for retirees in the Staines and Hayes area.
The highly sophisticated Terminal 5 baggage system is said to be the biggest, single-terminal baggage handling project in Europe. Transfer and late bags are assigned priority routing through a separate high speed baggage system and delivered direct to the aircraft stand of the departing flight.
Up to 90% of British Airways transfers will take place through Terminal 5. Unlike the rest of the yellow signage normally associated with airports, the transfer channels will be highlighted with purple signs, making it easy for customers to connect from one flight to another.
In what is probably a unique system anywhere in the world passengers transferring from international British Airways flights to another BAA UK domestic airport do not need to collect their luggage and pass customs. Their bags will be tagged and can be inspected at the destination.
Customers wishing to catch up on any retail therapy or fine dining can do so at the terminal which is in effect the UK”s newest shopping complex with its 144 stores and restaurants. For many it will be tax free. The 200,000sq ft area is not on the scale of Brent Cross or Bluewater but is still very large and must rank as one of the largest airport malls in the world. It is a far cry from the original duty free shops at Shannon in 1946.
A few of the names that will be available in Terminal 5 include: Harrods, Hughes and Hughes, Links, Mapin & Webb, Mulberry, Paul Smith, Smythson, Tiffany; and Cafe Amato, Caffe Nero, Caviar House & Prunier, Krispy Kreme and StarbucksEat. On the restaurant side Huxleys Bar & Kitchen will offer an innovative British menu plus Apostrophe, Carluccio”s, Giraffe, Gordon Ramsay and Wagamama.
In many ways BAA have been lucky. 9/11 was the turning point for airport security. Every airport anywhere in the world has had to be improved with regard to security. For many is was not easy due to site restrictions and layout, plus of course the cost of rebuilding. T5 is brand new and post 9/11. BAA should have got it right. It looks like they might have done.