I recall how embarrassed I was as a Brit abroad when Heathrow Airport’s new Terminal 5 opened in 2008 with much fanfare only to descend into chaos, with its new baggage handling system suspended and dozens of flights cancelled.
What was supposed to be a day of glory for British Airways, the sole occupant of the mammoth terminal, built at a cost of $8.6 billion, turned into a shambles as problems worsened. The airline was finally forced to restrict passengers at the terminal to hand-luggage only.
At one point, a British Airways flight left without any of its baggage in the hold, embarrassed airline officials conceded, making a mockery of an earlier claim that the new state-of-the-art baggage system would work well from Day 1.
Things are a lot slicker nowadays and the technology worked a treat when I checked in after a festive break with the family for my return flight back to Bahrain.
I did feel slightly uncomfortable having to put my own bag on the conveyer belt, print out the label and attach it myself. Perhaps I’m just lazy and like someone-else doing it. But I managed it OK although I couldn’t help feeling that aging parents of expats planning a visit might find it a tad intimidating.
I enjoyed the couple of hours before boarding in the Inspire Lounge for a hearty breakfast and refreshments until the time to head on down to the gate was highlighted on the big screen. There was a longer than usual wait, probably around 40-minutes, before we were invited to jump on the bus to take us to the aircraft.
The post-Christmas flight was jam-packed and I spotted more than a few acquaintances and their families lining up patiently with their families in the queue.
As soon as we climbed on board and settled in our seats the captain informed us that they’d been a repair carried out on a cargo bay seal, hence the delay in boarding, and the work had been carried out to his satisfaction and take-off would commence shortly once the paperwork was sorted.
For the next three-and-a-half hours the embarrassed crew profusely apologised for the continuing delay explaining how the said paperwork apparently had to travel from BA HQ to the Civil Aviation Authority, back to base and on to Heathrow.
I can just imagine the scenario.
The chief seal repair director who needed to sign the form had left for lunch and would be back in an hour. Unfortunately, the CAA’s executive seal repair authoriser had popped to the shops to exchange her New Year party dress because her stupid husband had bought her the wrong size skimpy frock for Christmas (she’s no longer aged 23 or a Size 8) and no-one else had the authority, or wanted, the responsibility of signing it.
In reality, it was probably much more boring … just bureaucracy.
We sat on the plane and waited. I received several texts from BAeServices, one offering light refreshment vouchers which could be collected from the customer service desk, another advising me that the engineering repairs had been completed sooner than anticipated so we were going to stay onboard and another apologising for the delay.
One would have thought that in this high tech world of instant communication – I regularly transfer funds across the globe and even signed mortgage agreements using my mobile device – surely the airline and the government entity responsible could do likewise.
On the upside, I am told the delay may bring some compensation, which will go towards my son Stan Jnr’s flight to Bahrain in February to celebrate his 17th birthday. Hopefully, he’ll arrive in time for the party.