Case study closed – (Terminal trouble at T5… continued)

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.

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“Mr Moodie, we have good news for you. Your suitcase has been located here in Miami and we’ll be sending it to you right away as we know you’ll be leaving tomorrow.”

Gloria, the kind lady from British Airways’ handling agency at Miami International Airport, was bringing the case of the missing case to a conclusion. On the day the Duty Free Show of the Americas came to an end, the gear I needed for that show duly arrived, five days after I had.

Gloria is a nice human being. For the past three days she has called me to tell me that my bag was due to be loaded onto BA209 out of T5 – only (until yesterday) to discover that it hadn’t been. Gloria though was doing her best. And she was keeping me informed. There is a lesson, a big lesson, in that for British Airways. Put Gloria and some other front-line staff who have to constanly bear the brunt of customer anger on the Board for a few months and we might see a rapid improvement in passenger relations.

Within minutes of greeting my suitcase this morning I read that BAA and British Airways had jointly announced the postponement of the transfer of many long-haul flights out of T4 to T5. Time for a double celebration over my early morning coffee here in Fort Lauderdale.

BA Chief Executive Willie Walsh said: “It is only sensible to ensure that Terminal 5 is operating consistently at a high standard before the move begins.”

There is, of course, a natural tendency to ridicule such statements as being a little late in the day, given the fiasco of recent weeks. But they should be resisted. Make no mistake this is the right call – in fact it is the only call. It is never nice to have to admit publicly that you or your organisation have messed up, especially to such a major extent.

But admitting culpability is far better than denying or ignoring it. BA’s brand image has been severely hit by recent events. So, even though it has been the more innocent party, has BAA’s. The fightback can only begin when honesty and humility kicks in. Perhaps that process has started today.

BAA Chief Executive Colin Matthews said: “We believe it is a wise precaution to ensure that passengers can have the maximum confidence once the move does take place.”

He continued: “BAA fully recognizes that the inauguration of Terminal 5 has not been as smooth as we and BA would have wished.”

A fair bit of understatement there but at least the tone is right. Gloria would have approved. As we said right from the start of our own particular case study, teething problems can be excused. Lack of customer response and care in the wake of such problems cannot.

T5 remains a wonderful building with some superb shopping and food & beverage facilities. Eventually it will be a wonderful and fully operational terminal. But a harsh lesson has been learned here that should remain indelibly stamped in the minds of all those who develop airports and who manage both aeronautical and non-aeronautical services – airports are there to get people from A to B, quickly, efficiently and safely. Not just people but their possessions. Get that right and the non-aeronautical business can flourish. Get it wrong and you risk catastrophe.

By making their joint call today BAA and BA have avoided catastrophe. But it was a close-run thing. Case closed.

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