U.K. industry specialHeathrow's Terminal 5 will open in two weeks

Published 3 March 2008

The new, beautiful terminal — it also has an impressive view of the airport and its surroundings — will open on 14 March, and begin operations on 27 March; the mixing — and fingerprinting — of both international and domestic travelers; transfers to other airlines; and tight security checks pose problems

In two weeks, the Queen will open Britain’s biggest building project: The £4.3 billion Terminal 5 at Heathrow airport. It is hoped that despite the many problems at Europe’s busiest airport, Her Majesty should expect everything to go smoothly on 14 March — partly because police will keep anti-expansion demonstrators well away, and partly because no passengers will be there. The Independent’s Simon Calder writes, though, that a bigger challenge faces the airport operator on 27 March, when the building’s sole tenant — British Airways — moves in many of its flights. Channel 4’s Dispatches program raised concerns last week ranging from the efficacy of security searches to the number of flights to which passengers must be “bused” rather than boarding via airbridge. Calder says he hopes that Ferrovial, the owner of Heathrow, had spies on hand at Beijing’s new Terminal 3 yesterday to find out how to get things right. Passengers on the first BA flight from the new facility enjoyed a stylish and serene 21st-century creation. Will those flying in the opposite direction have the same experience at Heathrow?

Terminal 5 begins with a big advantage over the ragbag of facilities elsewhere at Heathrow; the sense of light and space is a vast improvement. Yet the new terminal will mean increased hassle for some passengers — even in terms of getting there. At present, Tube trains serving all four terminals arrive and depart every five minutes for most of the day. From 27 March, Terminal 4 and Terminal 5 will be served by alternate Piccadilly line services, doubling the waiting time. Also, not all BA flights will switch over. During the summer, travelers on BA flights could find themselves arriving at, or departing from, any of the five terminals. In fact, for many British travellers starting or ending long-haul trips at provincial airports, Paris or Amsterdam could offer quicker transfers than Heathrow. Minutes count at Terminal 5 — especially when it comes to security. BA, whose current punctuality record is lamentable, is introducing a zero-tolerance policy that could hit passengers who are, by the airline’s definition, running “late.” The airline will deny boarding to anyone who fails to get through security at least thirty-five minutes before departure.

As we wrote a few weeks ago, all domestic passengers will have to get used to the idea that they are fingerprinted as they enter the “airside” area, and again before boarding their plane. Over the past few months thousands of travelers have acted as guinea pigs, testing the processes at the new terminal. One said: “It’s a good job that T5 has great views — you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy them while queuing.”