Friday, 16 January 2009

Terminal 5 - better to arrive in than depart ?

Took the Heathrow Express to the airport yesterday morning. As always it left on time and took me straight to Terminal 5 in comfort, punctually and with the minimum of hassle. Cost was $50 for a return ticket which isn't cheap - but I guess you pay for efficiency.

London's Terminal 5 has had a bad press but it's now functioning smoothly - when you arrive at least. I was off the plane from Rome on Tuesday and through immigration within 5 minutes and on the Heathrow Express to the centre within 10.

Departing yesterday morning was another matter. No sooner had I arrived at the security lines than the staff closed up that section for their morning break and directed us to the security lines at the other end of the airport. Believe me, that terminal is quite a walk from end to end when you're carting luggage. The screening staff at security , when you eventually get there, have developed a peculiarly hectoring manner ' Get your liquids ready - Get your liquids ready now!' is the brusquely shouted mantra that greets you when you get to the x-ray machine. I almost thought they were going to start yelling Raus! Raus!

Security wouldn't let me carry my passport with me - which I think must be a first at any airport I've ever been through. Working all day at security must be a thankless task but Terminal 5 has trained their people to provide one of the most charmless impersonal services imaginable. I wonder why British Airways, who operate out of Terminal 5 , doesn't raise the service levels with the British Airports Authority - does no one recognize what a bad reflection of Britain and the British this lack of civility generates? At Kennedy or LAX the staff face the same pressures but don't descend into rudeness or assume a warden style approach to passengers. Security at Rome can irritate with its lack of logic, particularly in high summer, but the staff always retain a sense of humanity and decency. Britain seems to have lost something in its quest for efficiency.

BA to Rome left on time both going and returning and arrived early both ways. The airline has its detractors but I'm not one of them.

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