Heathrow Terminal 5: When Things Go Horribly Wrong, Sometimes Even the Best Service Recovery Strategy Won’t Be Good Enough

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Yesterday, London’s Heathrow airport opened its multi-billion pound Terminal 5. If you’re not in the UK, you can read below what happened.

I’m not going to comment, as it’s a bit like shooting fish in a barrel, apart from to say that it’s just as well they were forced to cancel at the last minute their plans to fingerprint every single passenger passing through the new Heathrow Terminal 5.

If they had fingerprinted customers as well as telling them their luggage could not go on the plane and as well as making some of them sleep on the floor last night and as well as blaming a whole series of stupid problems that proved they simply hadn’t worked the bugs out of the system (damn: I couldn’t resist commenting after all) they’d have had a riot on their hands instead of just a fiasco.

Since British Airways already loses more bags than any other airline, how are they going to recover from this self-created service farce (they are the only airline allowed to use the new terminal)? OK, I’ll shut up. This is from the Telegraph (below). It’s painful to read – especially the bit where, instead of focussing on service recovery and apologising profusely, British Airways and the British Airports Authority instead blame each other for the errors. Here’s a clue, chaps – Customers don’t care; they blame both of you. And rightly, so

“By mid-afternoon on Thursday, British Airways had cancelled 33 of the 534 services it planned to operate from the terminal.

In a statement, the company blamed the difficulties on a number of factors, including delays at the staff car park and security hold-ups which affected baggage handlers.

In the early evening, passengers waiting in Terminal 5’s departure hall were told that no one would be permitted to fly with their hold baggage for the remainder of the day. BA said that seven evening flights — a mixture of European and domestic — had left without hold luggage, around another dozen had departed with some baggage having been loaded before the check in desks were shut down.

Those unable to travel were re-booked or offered a refund by the airline.

It was the culmination of a miserable day at Heathrow’s showpiece £4.3 billion terminal during which passengers were confronted by a series of other glitches, ranging from escalators breaking down to pay machines at the car park not working properly…

A backlog, caused partly by delays to baggage handlers clearing security, meant check-in desks closed and passengers were only able to take hand luggage on board most flights.

Some stranded passengers spent the night on the floor of the new terminal.

In part, the difficulties were caused by BAA’s new baggage handling computer system.

It proved too sophisticated for some staff who arrived for the first shift of the day and were unable to log on and start work.

Others had difficulty getting into the airport because of security screening problems.

As a result, the first flights to Brussels, Amsterdam and Edinburgh left without any luggage whatsoever…

Then as the airport struggled to clear baggage from inbound passengers, the entire “state of the art” system crashed completely because the number of suitcases circulating on the belts had reached saturation point.

The shambolic events of the day led to the airline and airport holding each other responsible for much of the debacle. British Airways said the system was provided by the airport, while BAA said it was the airline which was responsible for getting bags from the aircraft to the belts.”

Phil Dourado
Author, Speaker, Independent Consultant
Founding editor of Customer Service Management Journal in the United States, and of its companion title, Customer Service Management Journal (now rebranded as Customer Management Magazine) in the United Kingdom. He is the author of The 6 Second Leader (Capstone, John Wiley & Sons, 27). www.PhilDourado.com

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