Business as usual at Heathrow?

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Last week’s statement issued by the UK Department of Transport was not exactly good news for the travel retail industry – but it did represent progress of sorts.

Effectively the Department eased some of the most irksome baggage restrictions – I challenge any business traveller with more than a frisbee’s width of carry-ons to easily meet the size limits on hand baggage imposed since 10 August – but left in place the ban on liquids being able to be carried onto US-bound flights.

With BAA/World Duty Free having rightly given up on gate delivery – too expensive, too difficult, too unpopular – and the debate over ‘sealed bags’ still being conducted at European level, that means no duty free fragrances nor liquor for US-bound passengers. Bad news for airports such as Heathrow with a high percentage of US flights. Bad news for retailers and suppliers. And bad news for the consumer.

World Duty Free is doing its best. It has nice signs out saying ‘Business as Usual’ to greet the stressed, frazzled passengers who stumble out of security wondering what just hit them.

But of course it’s not business as usual. The (not very) small print adds ‘unless you are heading to the US’ where following last week’s announcement it’s very much a case of ‘no business as usual’.

If I was BAA I would be doing everything in my power to put on a song and dance act for those frazzled passengers as they emerge, muttering and stressed from security. Tell them ‘the worst is over – your holiday starts now’. Give them a sense of fun, highlight some irresistible offers, make duty free a consumer’s haven, not just another sign-ridden obstacle course on the way to the gate.