Heathrow Terminal 5, the $8.6 Billion Thumbs Down

Heathrow Terminal 5, the $8.6 Billion Thumbs Down

As one might be able to tell with my coverage of airports, I’ve flown far too much, through too many countries over the last couple of months. While nothing compared to some business travelers, I had the joy of logging in 16 flights during this period with four of them being intercontinental to three different continents.

But, I bring this up to possibly (although most likely not) soften my rancid criticism of Heathrow’s new Terminal 5. This multi-billion dollar expansion of the airport is nothing short of a huge flop. Sure, it will continue to be massive transit hub for the future, but one that no one is going to enjoy the use of. Let’s put aside the whole baggage disaster from back in March. These things happen. It was painful, but let’s move on to bigger and better problems.

For instance, arrival. I flew in to Heathrow from Budapest on British Airways. One of the primary reasons that they built T5 was to better house BA, so in a sense, this is BA’s home. For some reason, when I arrived at this brand new terminal, on time, at the right terminal, I was dumped out on the tarmac and had to use one of the movable stairs to get off the plane. How is it that at a new terminal that’s not even being fully used yet, the primary airline of this terminal is parking jets out on the tarmac? This does not bode well for the future.

After getting off the plane and getting wet from a touch of the London trickle, I made my way on to the transport bus to go to the proper terminal. Luggage wasn’t an issue thankfully. That came up quickly and it seems that the snafus with the luggage system have been worked out.

The main issue in luggage retrieval was that after ripping off my tracking tags I couldn’t find anywhere to deposit them. I looked high and low for a trashcan, but none were to be found. A docent saw me looking around like and idiot and asked if I needed help to which I asked him where a trashcan was. “Oh, there aren’t any. They didn’t put any in for security purposes.” What?!! No trashcans in the whole damned terminal. So, I guess everyone should learn from this and dump their garbage wherever they’re sitting. It’s what T5 wants you to do. Think of it as modern trash disposal in a world where no airline passenger has trash.

Then there came the issue of getting to my connecting flight. Looking at the sign, my flight wasn’t coming up. I later on found out it was at Terminal 2, which I had forgotten. I don’t really understand how it is that something I can look up on the internet can’t be broadcast on arrival and departures boards. They are digital after all and this wouldn’t take much to have all the flights at the various terminals shown. But, once knowing where to go, moving on to the other terminal proved tricky as well, since the signage in T5 is abysmal. Trying to figure out where to go is not a simple process. Naturally, I did find the way and got out of T5 quite quickly, hoping to not set foot in it anytime soon.

Overall, I got the feeling that much like Barajas in Madrid, so much more work went in to finding fancy shops and having a good look to the place than making it usable. That and there seems to be some kind of arrogance on the part of BA that there is no possible way you’d be flying in to T5 to not be flying out of T5 as well, even though the British do this all the time with budget flights. Suffice to say, the airport has a long way to go before it’s a sensible place and I wonder if the Queen ever feels that she cut the ribbon a little too soon on the whole shebang.

2 Replies to “Heathrow Terminal 5, the $8.6 Billion Thumbs Down”

  1. I personally love the elevator that you take to the tube/underground service. I’ve taken it three times already, so by now I know how it operates, but to first time users it’s always an adventure. Go check it out when you’re at the terminal again, but be warned, it might just stop on a floor that you didn’t want to go to, and skip the one you wanted to go to. You think buttons would help you? Wrong, the lift doesn’t have any – it’s fully automated. Oh and another annoyance: When 500 people want to get from the arrival gate to their luggage, but the only way there is by tram, and said tram only has space for ~150 people, how long do you think you’ll have to wait for 3-4 trains to come by so you as person number 500 at the end of the Q will be able to pick up your baggage? Yes, a long time..

    1. Oh yeah, I took that while there. It seemed to make enough sense to me that there was a ghost in the machine to bring me to the train platform, but I did see other people unclear on how it worked.
      Another example of form over function in this thing…

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