"PR disaster" for Britain as chaos continues at Heathrow

31st March 2008, Comments 0 comments

Chaos continued for a third day at Heathrow airport's multi-billion-pound new Terminal 5 on Saturday.

London -- Chaos continued for a third day at Heathrow airport's multi-billion-pound new Terminal 5 on Saturday, posing what the critics called a "PR disaster" for Britain as meanwhile British Airways was forced to cancel more flights, stranding its passengers.

BA on Saturday cancelled 66 flights, bringing the total so far to more than 180 cancellations since the T5 building was opened on Thursday.

The airline also announced the cancellation of a 37 further flights on Sunday as work meanwhile continued to try to resolve the baggage-handling problems at the 4.3-billion-pound (8.6-billion- dollar) gleaming glass-and-steel terminal.

Passengers faced not only flight cancellations, but also flight delays and no delivery of their baggage after their arrival as the terminal's baggage-handling system failed.

In addition, reports said that of 16 lifts in the new terminal, only one was in working order on Saturday. Other reports said the phone system in the building was not working properly.

Amid the chaos, the British Chambers of Commerce said T5 was a "PR disaster for London and the UK" while the opposition Conservative party was demanding an inquiry into the "chaos and confusion."

BA sought to reassure passengers and told them to expect delays of 30 to 40 minutes as the problems were being worked out. But some frustrated passengers told of spending several hours waiting, only for their flight to be cancelled and no new flight being scheduled.

Among those stranded was a group of English pupils who were to fly to Stuttgart, Germany, on an exchange program on Saturday.

"Instead of warning us beforehand, we only learned when we arrived at the terminal that we can now only fly to Germany on Tuesday," a teacher said.

In another development, unions accused the airport management company BAA of ignoring the unions' warning that the baggage-handling personnel had not been adequately trained.

The Times reported that two weeks ago the Unite and GMB unions had warned that the 2,000 handlers had not received sufficient training for the new terminal.

The Times also reported Saturday that BA faced fines of up to 5,000 pounds (9,970 dollars) per passenger for flight cancellations and for not informing people about their rights to hotel accommodation and compensation.

BA chief Willie Walsh apologized Friday for the chaos, which the British media have described as a national embarrassment.

"We clearly disappointed a number of people and we sincerely apologize," Walsh said.

He rejected calls for his resignation.

BA has tried to reassure passengers that it is working to remove the problems, saying it hoped to have the terminal at "full functionality" during Sunday.

DPA with Expatica

0 Comments To This Article