Thursday, 30 July 2009

Blog from the past - Heathrow T5 opening

So here's a blog I wrote for somebody else re my experience of Heathrow T5 in April 2008 just after it opened :-

"So I'm typing this whilst we sit on the plane delayed (as usual)...

Didn't start well :-

• Yesterday one of our team was due to fly at 17:00. His flight was cancelled and he was put on the 21:00, which in turn took off at 23:00. Upon arrival he was told BA hadn't loaded any baggage and they didn't know when his bag would be forwarded to him. Indeed this morning he still has had no update at all.

My experience :-

• Arrived at T5 at 04:30 for 07:30 flight (wary of delays thought better allow a lot more time than normal)

• Nice shiny, quiet & well lit terminal (must however have been tricky for the 100 or so blanket & sleeping bag ocupiers to get any sleep - either BAA are looking after the homeless or this is now part of the 'T5 experience')

• Nothing operating for check-in at all!

• 11 flights already cancelled in next 2hrs

• 100s of self check-in machines, but they don't boot-up until 04:45 - goodness only knows why as internet check-in is 24hrs!

• 100s of check-in desks & 'fast bag drops' but not one open, and no indication of when they will open

• No BA staff anywhere to be found

• A few BAA staff in 'can I help?' sweatshirts, but they roam in packs in order to avoid customers

• Eventually at 05:10 some unionised BA trolly dollys saunter up to 6 of the 100+ counters and start doing their nails & make-up.

• After a further 5 mins they decide to start doing their jobs and open the desks

• Progress is slowed by the 'can I help?' mupwhits constantly interrupting the check-in dollys with questions (in broken English as it would appear no employees are actually from the UK)

• Eventually through to security... Where progress is now delayed by the 'requirement' to take pictures of everybody on internal UK flights - hence creating another queue as only 2 of the 8 counters are open and photography is not a strong point of the nightclub bouncers hired to grunt their way through this task

• Never one to miss an opportunity to create a queue BAA have decided only to open one of their 20 new x-ray scanners. But this does give time to note the rather unfinished nature of the terminal interior - black gaffer tape appearing to be a critical structural construction item, and lots of odd holes and bits of wooden things that messers Heath & Robinson would have been rather proud about....

• So eventually on to the new x-ray scanning system - now with a double deck tray cart system, lower for empty carts to use, upper for your carts full of stuff. With 3 'stations' per conveyor - meaning people carts now get interleaved with each others. Another great QCS (queue creation scheme) courtesy of BAA at the other side of the machine.

• But BAA have now decided to automate the conveyor of carts on the far side, meaning that nobody understands when to collect their stuff and when not to. And God forbid those who try and lift their cart of the conveyor!!!

• In a great cost saving measure (no doubt to pay for all the 'abstract' (ie poncy & f'ing expensive) artwork 'installations' around the terminal) BAA have chosen to have no chairs for people to sit on whilst putting their shoes back on. Still at least the people having to sit on the floor saves on floor cleaning costs...

• The one area that BAA appear to have focused all of their efforts on however is the 'retail experience' with lots of shops selling all the stuff you never needed...

• Food (ie money extraction) 'appears' to be ok, but, and its a big but, try finding a bin! They make BA staff look positively available and easy to find.

• Oh and the general signage is terrible, hunt the toilet is a whole new game certainly requiring gps & satnav... And if/when you get there expect much fewer / smaller than at the old terminal (an impressive reduction on something that was already under-resourced) - but at least the taps are 'modern' ((

• Sadly BA chose to locate our plane on the core 'A' of T5 so we didn't get to experience either the lifts & train to B or C terminals (note no ability to 'run for it' anymore) or the busses to the plane.

• Our 07:30 flight eventually took off at 08:10, not too bad for BA and they blamed the Dutch (too many planes in air over the Netherlands - as if these flights just appear as random surprises....)

• Goodness only knows what the electricity bill for the place is - everything is electronic screens and gizmos, wonder what happens with a power cut?

• Good news is that my bag was waiting for me at my destination!
• An ok-ish building but NO staff, NO processes, NO effort being made

• Might be ok in a couple of months if they sort out the people bit AND work on the process side

• Despite the architecture glitz & glamour, it's actually quite shabby & well worn upon closer ispection in many areas.

• Glass, stainless steel & flat screens certainly alone don't make for customer service & satisfaction

• Gormless unionised staff with no eye contact or sense of drive, motivation or energy

• A lot less (ie none) 'customer survey' people around than normal - suspect they are in hiding or off ill...

• If I worked at BA or BAA in people or process mngt I'd be worried about my job - as its clear nothing has improved on this side at all, and the new building merely highlights it further

Can't wait for Thursday night's return experience"

Thankfully T5 has got a little better since then...

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