BA Cancels Flights in New Heathrow Terminal Chaos

 
 
By Reuters -  |  Posted 2008-03-28
 
 
 

HEATHROW (Reuters) - British Airways cancelled a fifth of flights from its new $8.6 billion terminal at London's Heathrow airport as its high profile launch gave way to a second day of chaos and embarrassment on Friday.

BA said it dropped the short-haul flights to ease congestion as it tried to recover from the mess left by Thursday's opening when nearly 70 flights were cancelled, leaving passengers distraught.

BA's problems provoked a public relations disaster for the carrier that once styled itself the "world's favorite airline" -- and weighed on its shares.

Chief Executive Willie Walsh warned travelers problems could persist into the weekend.

"I would expect some disruption tomorrow (Saturday), but I think it will get better every day as we become accustomed to the building and the quirks of the systems," he said.

"Yesterday was definitely not British Airways' finest hour," he said. "There were problems in the car parks, airport areas, computer glitches and the baggage system."

Jackie Bachmann, 40, from Switzerland encountered baggage problems as she traveled with four other snooker players to an amateur competition in Glasgow.

"We had problems with our bags and his snooker cue is missing," she said. "Now we are waiting here for the next flight to Glasgow."


RIVALS CAPITALISE

BA shares fell more than 3 percent on Friday, hit by the T5 chaos and jitters ahead of Sunday's start of the "open skies" deal to create greater competition on trans-Atlantic routes.

"I don't think it will be material, but it's certainly bad for sentiment and not good for the BA brand," BlueOar Securities analyst Douglas McNeill said. "You'd need several days of severe disruption to really impinge on BA's financial performance."

Adebayo Oniwinde, 52, a missionary from Lagos, was one of those caught up in the chaos.

"I made a booking on a BA flight to Oslo," he said. "I was going to travel at 1 o'clock. Now I'll have to wait eight hours."

BA's rivals, which resent Spanish-owned airport operator BAA

gifting BA its own dedicated terminal, were quick to capitalize.

Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic said 200 BA passengers had already switched across to longhaul Virgin flights because of the problems.

Bmi said Terminal 1 had 40 percent less passengers after BA moved out and it was "running like clockwork".

And private jet firm NetJets Europe said it had seen an 88 percent upsurge in traffic in and out of the London region in the past 24 hours.

STRANDED PASSENGERS

The open-plan T5 is Britain's largest enclosed space, equivalent to the size of about 50 soccer pitches. It was touted as the answer to regular delays at the airport.

British Airways spent months promoting the gleaming Richard Rogers-designed terminal, packed with high-end shops and restaurants, bringing photographers and journalists from all over the world to show off the complex.

Budget airline Ryanair accused BAA of having "gold plated" the terminal when it should have been focusing on basic efficiency. It used the opportunity to call for the break-up of BAA, which also runs London's Gatwick and Stansted airports.

"If the BAA London airport monopoly was split up, competition would deliver better services and efficient terminals which actually work, as opposed to complicated Taj Mahals like Heathrow's T5," said Ryanair Chief Executive Michael O'Leary.

(Additional reporting by David Clarke, George Kiley, Luke Baker and Tim Castle; Editing by Jodie Ginsberg, Quentin Webb and Mike Elliott)