Airline sees second day of chaos

LONDON — LONDON -- For the second successive day, British Airways canceled dozens of flights at Heathrow's glittery new Terminal Five as its staff struggled with state-of-the-art technology supposed to hasten check-in procedures and make flying a pleasure.

The hitches since the terminal opened to paying passengers Thursday were "definitely not British Airways' finest hour," the airline's chief executive, Willie Walsh, told reporters as he offered a personal, public apology for disrupting the travel plans of thousands of people.


On Thursday British Airways canceled almost 70 flights after a day of delays caused by baggage-handling problems. On what was supposed to be the first full day of operations at Terminal Five, many flights took off with their holds empty, carrying passengers with just cabin baggage.

Some passengers slept overnight inside the steel-and-glass terminal, - reviving precisely those images of delay and decline in British aviation that British Airways said it would banish with the opening of the new terminal.


As a result, Walsh said, some 36 short-haul flights out of Terminal Five - mainly short-haul and domestic - were canceled in advance yesterday to ease pressure on staff dealing with unfamiliar procedures and systems.

Walsh said there had been "problems in the car parks, airport areas, computer glitches and the baggage system."

Referring to the prospects for the weekend, he said yesterday: "I would expect some disruption tomorrow, but I think it will become better as we become accustomed to the building and the quirks of the systems."

Early yesterday, travelers arriving to board flights confronted what one traveler, Tony Pascoe, 35, called chaos as they stood in line for several hours only to be told their flight had been canceled.

The debacle contrasted with Britain's frequent depiction of itself as the leading European modernizer. "This is a public relations disaster at a time when London and the U.K. are positioning themselves as global players," said David Frost, the director general of the British Chambers of Commerce. "We can only hope that this will provide a wake-up call as we gear ourselves up to host the Olympics in 2012."

Heathrow is among the world's busiest airports, handling 67 million passengers a year. The new terminal - reserved exclusively for use by British Airways - was designed to counter the airport's image as an unpleasant place for travelers. The building cost $8.7 billion and has 10 miles of baggage-conveyor belts supposed to carry up to 12,000 items of luggage per hour.

But the baggage system has been at the heart of the problems.

Other airlines, excluded from Terminal Five, took some delight in claiming to pick up business from British Airways as travelers switched to other airlines operating out of Heathrow's older terminals.