British Airways is to postpone moving most of its long-haul flights to Heathrow’s T5 because of continuing problems at the £4.3bn (€5.3bn) terminal, union sources said today.
The airline was due to transfer nearly all its long-haul operation from Heathrow’s Terminal 4 on April 30.
But the opening of the new terminal has been beset by delays and disruption, with flights cancelled and passengers left stranded.
Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB union said: “This is a sensible move which gives time to make sure everything works smoothly.”
BA and airports operator BAA later announced that the planned move of the airline's long haul services will be deferred until June.
They said in a joint statement: “While a normal flight schedule has been operated at Terminal 5 since Tuesday, we want to ensure that customers can be confident of high service standards when additional flights are introduced.
“We will work together to iron out any remaining problems, including the baggage system and its operation, and develop a robust timescale for phasing the move of Terminal 4 services into Terminal 5.”
BA chief executive Willie Walsh said: “We are making this decision in the interests of customers. Though Terminal 5 is now working well, we need to have confidence that good service can be maintained when the terminal is handling larger numbers of customers.
“It is only sensible to ensure that Terminal 5 is operating consistently at a high standard before the move begins.”
BAA chief executive Colin Matthews said: “BAA regrets this postponement, and we recognise the impact it has on other airlines, but we believe it is a wise precaution to ensure that passengers can have the maximum confidence once the move does take place.
“We will be working very closely with BA in the intervening period to ensure that result, as well as working with the other airlines to mitigate as much as possible the knock-on effects.
“BAA fully recognises that the inauguration of Terminal 5 has not been as smooth as we and BA would have wished. In the last few days, passengers have seen significant improvement and our goal is to complete that process as soon as possible before continuing the next phase of transforming the rest of the airport.”
Under the original plans, almost all BA’s Terminal 4 long-haul services were due to switch to T5 at the end of the month, totalling 60 departures and 60 arrivals a day.
BA said it will contact customers shortly to explain the postponement.
T5 was officially opened by the Queen on March 14 and flights began operating from the new facility on March 27.
But it soon became clear that despite pre-opening rehearsals and state-of-the art facilities including a hi-tech new baggage system, that things were going drastically wrong.
Passengers had to wait up to two-and-a-half hours for their bags, then flights began to get cancelled and finally the bag system collapsed, meaning that some flights left with no bags and no passengers were allowed to fly with checked-in luggage.
Huge queues built up at the check-in desks and there were even long lines of BA staff waiting to get through security.
Flight cancellations continued for the following days and it was not until earlier this week that BA was able to run a full service from T5.