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B A Dummy – travel via Heathrow Terminal 5

It could only happen in 21st Century shambolic Britain.

For many, many years Terminal 5 at London Heathrow has been in one stage or another of being planned or being built. Just the process of building the place has taken over 5 years. So you’d have thought that every eventuality would have been planned for, every process would have been rehearsed many times, every member of staff would have been fully trained, and would know exactly what did what, where, and how.

It seems they didn’t.

BA might have been hoping people would be able to hum the Steve Miller Band song, “Fly like an Eagle”. Well, BA got the Eagle part right, but only because on the day it was more like that line from The Eagle’s “Hotel California “You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave…”

It appears that British Airways caught “Iraq Expectancy Syndrome” ie, a concentration on everything up until the moment of truth, but very little focussed on consequences afterwards. Too much “Short Termism” perhaps? Basically, BA and BAA seem to have just assumed that everything would be fine on the day. BA even sent out a peppy email full of vim and hopefulness. It started:

“Five and a half years ago the building of our new home began in our most visionary project to date. Today we opened the doors. There is no more waiting… ”

Err, really? According to the BBC News website things were not so rosy as BA predicted with delays of 3 hours or more for some, while less lucky people had to find hotel rooms as flights were missed or cancelled.

In their email, BA said “At Terminal 5 everything has been streamlined and designed to make your journey through the terminal calm and relaxed. And this morning we saw all the planning fall into place.”

Actually what we saw was everything falling apart.

Reports on BBC News say the problems mounted up for a number of reasons, all of which come down to bad planning, bad preparation, and poor or insufficient training. A typically British mess.

The BBC reported that the bottleneck was due to what BA referred to as the new “state-of-the-art baggage system” which broke down due to insufficient resources such as the computer system not being able to cope with the number of bags being carried. Because staff couldn’t get to their workplaces in time, bags mounted up at the end of the conveyor belts which were supposed to deliver bags to planes; this stopped the conveyors working, and then the check in couldn’t add any new bags to the “flow” and so everything stopped.

Some people even sat on their planes for three hours on the tarmac waiting for their baggage to be loaded, only to see it being returned to the terminal because the computers told the baggage handlers their stationary plane had already departed.

This was in complete contrast to BA’s earlier boast that “The next time you fly in to, or on from Terminal 5, you’ll experience for yourself how all the planning and careful design has fallen into place.”

Rather than falling into place, things were falling apart. One passenger in a wheelchair was stuck on a flight arriving into T5 from Glasgow for more than an hour – and then when he was transported to the terminal he realised he could not get up the kerb. Now that’s just ridiculous. Forgetting about wheelchairs in this age of Disability Awareness? That’s sloppy, if not careless.

So why was there all this chaos? Simple things, apparently. Some workers couldn’t get into their allocated car parks (insufficient systems testing); they got lost on the way to their places of work (lack of practice and poor preparation and signage); and some couldn’t get through security (poor systems testing again). And then of course there were the computer systems that fell over when things got difficult because presumably the programmers had not planned for what happens when things go wrong. Iraq Expectation Syndrome again.

In the end, 34 flights were cancelled, hundreds if not thousands of passengers inconvenienced, Britain made to look a laughing stock. Just because people no longer think things all the way through because they are more focussed on saving money/maximising profits than they are on getting the job done effectively.

Just like any other day at Heathrow then?

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2 comments on “B A Dummy – travel via Heathrow Terminal 5

  1. You beat me to it with this post.
    Hell really seems to be a place that is organised by the British.
    Sometimes I’m glad I live in Switzerland.
    When I go to London next month I think I’ll fly Swiss.

  2. Thanks for stopping by – I actually have the advantage of only writing about it, not experiencing it first hand so there were no delays for me! But it is very reminiscent of how EasyJet’s Ludicrous Luton Airport operates.

    I bet you’re glad of Swiss efficiency in public transport – and everything else of course!

    I do wonder though which computers run the systems at T5 – is it perhaps that favourite of Big Consultancy, Microsoft by any chance? We had huge problems trying to get Microsoft systems to multi-task (ie have more than one user at a time!) at work and eventually switched over to Macs for more robustness. But Big Consultancy makes more money out of running Microsoft systems and code, so which one are they going to choose?

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