I had cause to use Heathrow's new T5 this week, so I figured I'd write a few words about it from an engineer's point of view. I've given each category a score.
Luggage: 5 out of 5
After all the reports about luggage loss, I figured I'd pack some essentials in my hand luggage just in case my hold luggage went astray. As it turned out, my bags and I managed to make it to Johannesburg and back without delay and without parting company at any point. Okay, there was a bit of a delay at each end getting the bags into the baggage hall, but given that this was the same at the African end of the trip as it was at T5, I'm willing to put it down to sheer volumes (it was a B747, after all - I'm used to 70-seat puddlejumpers that only take five minutes to empty, so maybe I'm just impatient when it comes to baggage collection).
Check-in staff: 4 out of 5
The check-in and customer service staff were politeness itself, albeit with a need for a bit of top-up training. For instance, my colleague and I were at adjacent desks; my guy sent my bag off immediately, but the check-in guy at the other desk said to my colleague: "Oh, I can't send the bag down yet as it's too early". (The chap at my desk, who I judged had probably been with the airline for some years, told him just to send it down, and it'd be fine).
Check-in process: 4 out of 5
Actually "check-in staff" was probably a misnomer in the previous section, because you check in electronically and the only intervention is to drop your bags off at what would previously have been the check-in desk. The GUI on the check-in terminals was excellent, and the software has clearly been done properly. For instance, my colleague and I both checked in at once on the same terminal, and it was clever enough to realise that I'd provided my passport details on-line and Mike hadn't, and to ask the right questions in a sensible order. I half-expected it to demand that we check in individually, so it was nice that it did multiple check-ins sensibly. And quite sensibly, the terminals can read the machine-readable bit of your passport and your frequent flyer card. The reason docked a mark is that quite a few terminals weren't working.
Customer assistance staff: 1 out of 5
Theory: a load of helpful individuals wearing shirts with a big logo on that makes it obvious they're there to help you.
Practice: an effing disgrace.
First, there's not a lot of point wearing a distinctive shirt if you're going to cover it up with a leather jacket and wear a shaggy hairdo that makes people wonder whether you even have a legitimate reason for being at the airport, let alone whether you can tell them where the loo is.
Second, sitting on the seats of the car racing games in the amusement arcade chatting among yourselves makes you harder to spot than if you were on the concourse doing your job.
They get one out of five because of the nine or ten I spotted, a couple were walking around, smiling and appropriately dressed, approaching lost-looking people, and pointing them in the right direction (or at least, what I'm presuming was the right direction). Would it surprise you to hear that the two who actually gave a shit appeared slightly older than the others? No, thought not.
Announcements: 3 out of 5
The majority of PA announcements were fine - clear and concise. But my goodness, we had a couple of announcers who said: "Errrmmmm" more times than anything else. In one case it took almost a minute to announce that flight XXX was now ready for boarding at gate YYY. The slight wobble in the voice suggested that the announcer was new to the job and was pretty nervous - a bit of TLC from a supervisor and a few days' experience should sort that out.
Coolness: 5 out of 5
It's huge, it's new, and it looks really cool.
BA business lounge: 5 out of 5
Big sofas, contemporary lighting, decent food, free wi-fi and shedloads of power points (including European and US plugs, plus a 110V outlet in each cluster for Yanks without transformers). Any lounge that makes you think: "Hey, I'd love my living room to look like this" must be good.
Going through security: 1 out of 5
Oh dear. This has to be the worst-designed aspect of any airport I've ever been in, anywhere, ever. At each X-ray machine, there are three bays, so each person approaches a bay in turn.. You're given a tray to put your stuff in - which, I believe, has dimensions smaller than the maximum permitted size for hand luggage (oops). The sign says that you may be asked to remove your shoes; actually when I was there everyone was asked to remove their shoes (verbally, by the security person), so why not change the (electronic) sign to say: "Please remove your shoes"? The theory is that once all three people have filled their trays, they go through the X-ray machine and end up the other side in three more bays, from where you can pick up your stuff. All very well, but in reality three people don't fill their trays at the same speed, and so the assistants don't necessarily put them through one at a time. So if you're person three, and they put person one's tray (which is at the front of the queue) through the machine whilst they waited for person 2 to (say) remove their shoes, you now have to wait for the NEXT person one to fill their tray, because you're in a queue behind them. It's a classic example of a design that would work OK if used properly, but which is NEVER going to be used properly and which will thus always be slower than the old-fashioned first-come-first-served queue approach of ... well, every other airport in the world. Oh, and when the trays have been emptied there's this little mechanical gubbins that tilts the roller bed and sends the tray back to its origin; a simple spring would have worked perfectly well but no, they have to have a sensor and a little hydraulic widget that just screams "I'm going to go wrong when it's really busy".
In short, then, T5 isn't the disastrous monstrosity it's made out to be. I found it a pleasant place to be (which can't usually be said for an airport), and even if my experience hadn't been enhanced by my client shelling out on a BA Club World ticket, I'm sure I would have come out with a very positive impression. All they need to do is:
1. Persuade their slightly unreliable check-in terminals to work properly.
2. Sort out that damned stupid way of queueing at the X-ray machine (or just make assistants use it properly) and all should be well.
3. Sack the slovenly information assistants and employ some who actually want to do their job.
4. Top up the training a bit for the new guys and gals.