BA reaching terminal velocity
TERMINAL 5 is currently Europe’s biggest construction project, but once it opens it will be “the best terminal anywhere in the world” according to Robbie Baird, British Airways’ Middle East chief, regarding London Heathrow’s newest terminal due open on schedule and within budget on March 27.
The Scottish aviation executive says Terminal 5 will have a huge impact on the Middle East market, which is growing at “an electrifying pace”, by persuading customers that transiting through Heathrow can actually be a pleasant experience.
“While our transatlantic routes are still a huge source of business for us, with over 40 flights a day to North America, our 55 weekly services to and from the Middle East, including three daily flights to Dubai – and a daily Abu Dhabi service - are performing very strongly,” says Baird.
“Travel to and from the Middle East is growing significantly, well into double figures, and there is work going on to look at where to place extra flights in the future.
“There is no doubt these routes will continue their growth once Terminal 5 opens because customers will enjoy the convenience of arriving at what I consider will the best terminal on the planet.”
Work started on the £4.3 billion ($8.3 billion) new terminal, designed to accommodate almost all British Airways traffic at Heathrow, in 2002. All British Airways’ long haul operations will move to Terminal 5 on April 30.
“T5 will employ state-of-the-art facilities to ensure that transit passengers can move swiftly and comfortably between flights,” says Baird, and ensured that “Luggage transfer will be monitored every second to make sure that all baggage arrives in time for the connecting flight.
“The new terminal will be highly intuitive, extremely comfortable and customers will enjoy being there. T5 is going to do wonders for punctuality as well. We are going to promote it hard because it is the perfect link for Middle East customers travelling to North America.”
While passengers from the Middle East have traditionally seen Heathrow as a bane, with troublesome commutes between terminals and sizeable queues throughout the transfer processes, Baird considers T5’s impact on business as being a real selling point for the airline.
“Connections are particularly important to the Middle East market,” he says. “We will promote T5 very hard.”
As area commercial manager for this region, it is Paul Starrs’ job to spread the word. “We have a whole communications plan to raise awareness,” he says. “We aren’t going up against Emirates and Etihad because we have so many transfer routes from Heathrow. A lot of our business comes from transatlantic connections, so our main competitors are Air France, KLM and Lufthansa, and their hubs aren’t as good as Terminal 5 for transfers; Frankfurt and Paris are particularly bad. Travelling to North America with British Airways through T5 is the best way to do so.” The Richard Rogers designed terminal will be the largest freestanding building in the UK, and with its two satellite terminals, will cover a space as large as London’s Hyde Park.
Business and first class passengers have access to the airline lounge which can cater for 2,500 people. Shopping facilities will include Harrods, Coach and Prada stores, while food outlets feature Michelin starred chef Gordon Ramsay’s first ever airport restaurant.
“We must cater to increased growth coming from a new sector of the market, which we call premium leisure,” says Baird. “It is our fastest growing sector, with non business travellers increasingly choosing to travel in the premium classes to North America, and it is particularly strong on the UAE routes.
“For this reason, T5 will be a terrifically important tool for drawing customers to the airline and Heathrow Airport.”
Baird sees the new baggage system, capable of processing 12,000 bags per hour, as one of the biggest selling points of the airline’s Middle East service. Baggage reclaim should now take just 15 minutes, says Baird, who recognises that currently a large proportion of passengers transfer on arrival at Heathrow where baggage slip-ups “have the potential to cause travel misery”.