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British Airways...Again...So? What's New?

Much loss of face over airline's loss of case, after case, after case …

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Mar 31, 2008

British Airways, forced to cancel nearly 250 flights since the opening of its flash new terminal at London's Heathrow Airport, has warned of further disruption this week.

The launch of the terminal has turned into a public relations disaster.

And to make things worse, according to a report in the Sunday Mirror, British Airways executives threw a party for staff to congratulate them. A string quartet is reported to have played at the party, and there was a free buffet. "It was a bit like the Titanic," one source told the Mirror. "As the ship went down the band kept on playing."

But a BA spokeswoman said: "It was a staff communication event. There was a string quartet, doughnuts and food but we would not describe that as a party. Free gifts were given out but they were the same gifts passengers received on the plane."

The airline had hoped the new building would answer months of criticism prompted by overcrowded facilities at London's main airport.

It said earlier that 15,000 items of luggage were still stuck in the $8.6 billion terminal 5, their owners either flying on without them or giving up and going home. On Saturday, the airline that once styled itself the world's "favourite" said it had cut 66 short flights and European ones as the new bar-coded baggage handling system continued to fail to cope after Thursday's opening.

A BA spokeswoman noted that by the end of the weekend 243 flights — or 18.4% of its 1320 scheduled flights — would have been cancelled since the opening, and more than 250,000 items of baggage successfully handled.

The disastrous opening has forced the postponement of an advertising campaign promoting the new terminal.

The airline said it still planned to complete the second phase of its move to the new terminal from Heathrow's terminal 4 at the end of April, although the date was under review.

By then BA plans to have transferred more than 90% of its Heathrow operations to the vast open-plan building.

BA chief executive Willie Walsh has apologised for the disruption, and admitted the move to the terminal was "definitely not our finest hour".

BA shares fell more than 3% on Friday, hit by the Heathrow chaos and jitters ahead of the weekend's start of an "open skies" deal to create greater competition on trans-Atlantic routes. The airline faces a sizeable compensation bill for passengers delayed and forced to stay overnight in hotels.

Terminal 5 is Britain's largest enclosed space, equivalent to the size of about 50 soccer pitches.

British Airways spent months promoting the terminal, packed with high-end shops and restaurants, bringing photographers and journalists from all over the world to show it off.

Much loss of face over airline's loss of case, after case, after case …
Sleeping through the nightmare of Heathrow Airport.

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