BA’s passengers got their first look at the latest extension to the carrier’s Heathrow home in May. Tom Allett reports.
BRITISH AIRWAYS began a new chapter in its history when Terminal 5C, its third dedicated passenger building at Heathrow, accepted its first arrival in May.
It is a little over three years since the original Terminal 5 facility (T5A) opened its doors and its smaller sibling (T5B) followed soon afterwards. T5C was always part of the long-term plan and, though its planned opening date has changed at least twice, now it is open for business it has already enhanced BA’s Heathrow operation.
Those familiar with London’s premier gateway will have seen the £340 million (US$554m) building under construction and looking externally complete for some time now. Located at the western tip of the airport, all three parts of T5 lie parallel to each other, extending eastwards. Each building is smaller than its predecessor and is connected by a subway train providing journeys between T5A to T5C that last about a minute. Currently, the subway does have some capacity issues at peak times, but it is hoped that these can be resolved in due course.
While the main T5A building is the cornerstone of the airline’s facilities and accommodates both short- and long-haul flights, the ’B and ’C satellites are
essentially dedicated to long-haul services. While T5A has its excellent Concorde Room and Galleries lounges and T5B also boasts a smaller Galleries facility for Club passengers, it was decided that T5C would not incorporate a lounge just yet even though there is space for one. At this stage of course, with all parts of T5 still operating far below their theoretical capacity, any such facility – like the Galleries lounge located in T5B – would be underutilised and, therefore, less than efficient in terms of operating economics. However, I’m sure that those that have paid for a premium class service would quite like the opportunity to relax in an underutilised lounge! For the time being though, First and Club passengers are likely to continue to make the most of the facilities available in T5A before choosing their moment to make their way to the appropriate satellite.
At present there are four retail outlets inside T5C; Boots, Starbucks, W H Smith and World Duty Free which complement the much wider range of shops located within T5A. T5C’s Starbucks store is notable in that it is the first within the company’s huge international chain of outlets to serve alcohol.
T5C’s effectiveness will grow with time. The new satellite terminal has 12 boarding gates, of which eight are triple airbridges designed to cater for the new 12-strong fleet of Airbus A380 aircraft joining BA from early 2013. Though T5C obviously provides more space and departure gates it must be remembered that neither T5A or T5B are operating anywhere near full capacity yet, so the new building’s full potential won’t be realised for some time to come. Having said that, T5C’s aircraft parking stands have already been in use for a long time and one immediate benefit delivered by its opening is that around 3 million extra passengers can now arrive at their aircraft and board via an airbridge, rather than having to be bussed from T5A and climb a set of stairs.
The need to bus passengers has not been eliminated yet, but in percentage terms, it is down to single figures now and will obviously increase the airline’s customer satisfaction scores. T5C will have a further three airbridges added in the near future and though it is surprising that these weren’t added before the building opened, they will eventually provide a further boost.
BA says that more than 70 million customers on over 520,000 flights have used Terminal 5 since it opened in March 2008 and the facility has already helped it to achieve record levels of punctuality, baggage performance and the airline’s highest ever customer satisfaction scores.
The airline also notes that as T5C is situated closer to the other terminals at Heathrow, it will give it greater flexibility in how it manages its 4,000 flights a week. An example of this is a new dedicated transfer baggage tunnel linking T5C and Terminal 3, due to open in 2012, which will facilitate better baggage performance for all airlines at the airport and enable better connecting times.
In a company statement, Andy Lord, BA’s Director of Operations, said: “We know how much our customers love flying through Terminal 5 and our operations continue to break performance records on a regular basis.
“Terminal 5 has transformed our ability to offer the very highest standards of customer service which our passengers rightly expect for punctuality, baggage handling and relaxing before their flight. We hope that T5C will improve our overall performance even further.”
While it’s true to say that T5 and its satellites still have a few relatively minor problems to contend with, the bottom line is that together, they combine to create a world class facility that most airlines can only dream of having.
Terminal 5 Facts
- Over 520,000 flights have now departed or arrived at T5 since it opened.
- Busiest ever month: July 2010 with more than 2.4 million customers using the facilities.
- Busiest ever day: Friday July 30, 2010, with over 83,500 customers travelling through T5.
- T5’s six lounges were built at a cost of £60 million.
- Around 6 million customers have used the lounges to date.
- The most popular short-haul destination is Edinburgh.
- The busiest long-haul destinations are New York and Los Angeles.