The dust has settled on the UK government’s decision to allow a third runway at Heathrow Airport – but only for the moment.
Battle lines have been drawn – with the government, business and the airline industry on one side and, on the other, a conglomeration including environmentalists, local residents and celebrities.
Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson is one of the celebs who have joined with Greenpeace to buy a strip of land near the condemned village of Sipson in an attempt to stall the construction of the runway.
It promises to be a lengthy process with much legal action. The new runway (plus a sixth terminal) is not likely to be ready until 2015 at the earliest, and more likely 2020 or later.
There’s also a real possibility that it will never be built at all – if the opposition Conservative party win the next election, the whole project is likely to be scrapped.
by Andy Moreton
Luxique can offer some of the finest luxury London hotels as well as a London guide to getting around.
There’s been a fair bit of publicity here in London about the damning verdict on Heathrow Airport by a senior executive of American Airlines.
Don Langford, AA’s head of Customer Services, Europe, called it “a bit of a dump,” and said it was suffering from a lack of investment. “If you look at the fabric of the building, if you look at where customers check in - missing light bulbs, duct tape on the floor - I would have to say that Heathrow is in many ways the worst of all the airports that my company flies to in Europe,” he told the BBC.
Heathrow’s operator, the British Airports Authority - already reeling from the Terminal 5 fiasco - has hit back, saying it has a $4 billion ($7.9 billion) investment programme lined up over the next five years.
Being one of the most expensive capitals in Europe and having a much-maligned airport, not to mention dodgy weather, it’s sometimes a wonder anyone wants to come to London. A delight, therefore, to read Alexis Glick of Fox Business Network give the city a five-star blog write-up after a recent visit with her husband, Oren, but without their children:
“We were in London almost 10 years ago before we got married and a lot has changed. The city is as beautiful as ever, particularly at this time of year. Everything was blooming! The gardens and squares and narrow streets with unimaginably beautiful architecture were even more spectacular than normal because, believe it or not, the weather was excellent. It was in the mid to high 60s and sunny. Yes, we did experience some of the traditional London rain, but it wasn’t bad at all. We stayed in a beautiful intimate hotel called the Blakes Hotel in the Kensington neighborhood. It was unbelievably charming! We forgot what it was like to stay in an intimate hotel.”
Thanks, Alexis, come back any time!
* If you’re thinking of a UK trip, Luxique can offer you the intimacy of Blakes as well as many other London luxury hotels and boutique hotels.
by Andy Moreton
One thing that didn’t delay passengers at Heathrow’s new Terminal 5 was having their fingerprints taken.
Less than 24 hours before the opening of the terminal, the controversial scheme was shelved after Britain’s Information Commissioner expressed concern that it could breach the Data Protection Act.
The British Airports Authority had maintained that fingerprinting for domestic passengers was needed so that they could mix with international travellers in airport shopping centres. It warned that an incoming international passenger could switch tickets with an accomplice booked on a domestic flight and then enter the country without being checked by immigration.
But a statement from the Information Commissioner said: “It is essential that before introducing new systems and technologies which could accelerate the growth of a surveillance society, full consideration is given to minimising the impact on privacy and that data protection safeguards are in place to limit any risks.”
No such worries at New York’s Kennedy airport. Indeed, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has just announced that, in common with many other US airports, it’s now going to carry out a full ten-finger print check on international visitors arriving at JFK. Previously it was just a two finger job and a photo.
The DHS said the upgrade would improve fingerprint matching accuracy and help immigration officers make visa and admissibility decisions.
by Andy Moreton
“There are bound to be teething troubles, but hey, let’s give it the benefit of the doubt and wait to hear travellers’ tales after the 27th. Watch this space.”
That was what I said about Heathrow’s new Terminal 5 in my blog “5 Alive – nearly” on March 17th. I think you probably know by now, dear reader, that the first days of British Airways’ new state-of-the-art terminal – what the Queen described as “a 21st century gateway to Britain - were an unmitigated disaster. Lost luggage, flight cancellations and faulty elevators resulted in furious passengers and contrite authorities. “Not our finest hour,” said BA’s Chief Executive, Willie Walsh, with some understatement.
One delayed (British) traveller commented: “Why is it that whenever anything big is built in Britain, it’s over budget and doesn’t work properly?”
Answers on a postcard please …
by Andy Moreton
(A BA spokewoman has blamed the glitches on “staff familiarization”. Meanwhile, a baggage worker was quoted by the BBC as saying “They have been doing tests on the belt system for the last few weeks and knew it wasn’t going right. The computer cannot cope with the number of bags going through”. Even visiting dignitries are not immune to the situation after David Miliband, the British Foreign Secretary had an embarrassing meeting with Vuk Jeremic, the Serbian Foreign Minister who complained about his experience at Terminal 5 after his bags were lost.)
Well, readers, it’s finally here. After years of planning and protest, Terminal 5 at Heathrow was officially opened by the Queen on March 14th and will start accepting passengers on the 27th.
It’s a gleaming, glass-encased structure built on a former sludge works between the runways – the largest free-standing building in the UK. British Airways is moving 92 per cent of its 550 daily flights to Terminal 5 – that’s 30 million passengers a year.
According to the Terminal 5 website, it’s going to put the joy back into air travel. ‘Gone are the queues, the crowds, the stress. In their place find space, light and calm.’
The airline says that, on average, a passenger will take only ten minutes to get from the terminal entrance to the departure lounge beyond the security checkpoint. Check-in should be much faster than at other terminals because there will be 96 self-service kiosks and a similar number of fast baggage drop-off points in addition to 54 staffed check-in desks.
OK, it’s easy to be cynical - and plenty of people are. This on a Times newspaper blog from Rachel of London: “The opening of Terminal 5 is a disturbance for local residents and an insult to the environment. The only winners are those profiting from the aviation industry. It’s a national disgrace.”
The new terminal will doubtless be compared to state-of-the-art structures in Singapore, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Beijing. There are bound to be teething troubles, but hey, let’s give it the benefit of the doubt and wait to hear travellers’ tales after the 27th. Watch this space.
by Andy Moreton