Ian Blyth – It's Just a Thought

My thoughts and opinions

T5 Debacle

Posted by Ian Blyth on 3 April 2008

I am glad I have not been travelling BA at Heathrow’s new Terminal 5 – the flagship terminal for BA. It is no fun arriving somewhere on holiday or business without all your luggage.

I saw a program before it opened and how they had all these people wandering around with tasks sheets to check all was working. It looked impressive but obviously flawed.

As someone who has managed big projects the last thing you want to do is a big bang. Sometimes you just can’t help it but if at all possible it should be avoided. As all these flights were already at other terminals (I have not heard of new flights that were started) then it would have made more sense to phase those across over a number of months from a terminal at a time or by long haul/short haul etc. That would not have placed such a big strain on the system and early problems could have been fixed faster with less impact. The only reason I can think of why they did not do that was that there were financial penalties for still using the other terminals (although it is hard to see that those are more expensive than the compensation that they will have to pay) or that a high up figure wanted a big bang launch for the publicity and overrode the project managers. That is fine as long as the risks are fully worked out and mitigated against. In this case they obviously were not. Again I have seen that when someone in charge makes it their personal project and overrides people and does not listen or that the people underneath are afraid of being the “bearers of bad news”. The only thing that will happen in that case is hubris.

I am concerned that the government thinks it should interfere in a commercial organisation. The answer is clear. The airline has to pay lots of compensation and customers move to other airlines. That is how commercial matters work. Government is not needed. They have said about not letting BAA be a monopoly for all the London airports. I am not sure how that would help as you need to have a single company looking after an airport and whether or not it also looks after Gatwick etc seems to be immaterial. In fact if they do a good job it is a good thing as then the airports will have consistency. The government can hardly take the moral high ground on monopolies!

My problem with BAA is that they seem to run it for their benefit rather than the customers. If you have to fly from Heathrow you have no choice as there is not another Heathrow run by another company! I remember on a course where the tutor got us to do an exercise where we were aliens who knew English perfectly but did not “understand”. So guiding that alien into an airport and through the queues and check points was very enlightening. It became very obvious that this was not a customer friendly place. And the government have not helped by their stupid security measures. How is it that if a suitcase is above a certain size it is more likely to be a terrorist threat than one that is smaller? Very strange. But it is worth going through the “alien” exercise and trying it for yourself. If fact BAA executives should be made to do this exercise.

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