Terminal trouble at T5

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

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“Do you mind if I take a photo of my suitcase? It’s just in case anything goes wrong, I want to be able to describe it at the other end.”

The check-in woman at British Airways in London Heathrow Terminal 5 gave me a quizzical but understanding look. “No problem,” she said.

But there were problems. That was last Saturday and today as I write it is Tuesday. And that photograph (above) is the closest I have got to my suitcase since.

Along with over 100 fellow passengers on BA209 to Miami International Airport on Saturday, I arrived safely – though with a three-hour delay – but without my bags.

I am usually sanguine about such matters, after all it is an occasional reality of international travel. But one is less sanguine and less sympathetic after being held on the tarmac at Heathrow for over three hours before being assured that all the baggage issues that had been holding up the flight had been resolved.

But they hadn’t. Someone at BA had simply made the decision that the flight should take off for Miami sans (many) bags. A very helpful Captain and his cabin crew had (seemingly) kept everyone in the know about what was happening with the bags following a breakdown in the automated baggage system and discrepancies with the manual check.

When we arrived at Miami, the extent of the deceit became obvious. Over 100 passengers discovered they had no suitcases. But the two hapless and harried BA staff members there to greet them already held a number of telexed ‘Property irregularity reports’ that indicated the airline knew full well that the bags had never made it onto the flight.

Most were not even that lucky. The majority of the bags were – and still are – missing and the airline has no clue (I am tempted to end the sentence there) as to where they might be.

So why were there only two staff members there to greet a potentially angry (though in truth remarkably stoical) crowd? Many were due to take a cruise the next day, without any luggage. At least one woman, on the dream trip of a lifetime, cried openly.  “I would have preferred not to have flown than for this to happen,” she said.

A group of tourists from England’s Northeast, wearing t-shirts saying ‘Geordies on tour’ just shook their heads at the state of affairs and awaited their turn in the hour-long queue. It would not be much of a tour.

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The flight also carried a number of passengers bound for the Duty Free Show of the Americas, among them The Moodie Report and William Grant teams.

Nick Woodward of William Grant is now looking very chic in his new Banana Republic attire (no not bought from T5 even though the description fits) but has no idea whatsoever where his suitcase is. I am more conservatively clad in Dillard’s gear and at least I have a tracking note of my suitcase. It was promised first on Sunday, then on Monday, now I am told it will be loaded tomorrow on the fateful BA209. It should be here for the last day of the show…

Good luck to it. Good luck to all its passengers. Abandon hope all ye who enter Terminal 5.

Every new airport should be forgiven teething troubles and in life systems do break down. If it had been just my suitcase I would have been quite mellow about it – honestly.

But for 100 passengers to be flying without their suitcases a week after the T5 baggage fiasco first happened and for there to be such a pathetic attempt to cope with the situation at the other end is simply abysmal customer service.

I have been told by many fellow delegates at this week’s show that they now consciously avoid Heathrow, and particularly T5 as their businesses, cannot afford the risk of bags going missing. The BA brand name is bleeding by the day. So is BAA’s. And Saturday’s events suggest to me that neither cares enough about that fact.

BA CEO Willie Walsh and new BAA CEO Colin Matthews should be there to witness scenes like that at Miami International Airport. They need to sort things out fast or else the number 5 may not just be syonymous with fiasco but also with the terminal decline of two great British institutions.

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