Heathrow, We Have A Problem
- Written by Roberto Castiglioni
The chaos London Heathrow plunged in ahead of the Olympics and Paralympics reminds of the failed moon landing of Apollo 13.
While the PM thinks summoning the Home Secretary to Downing Street is the appropriate course of action, passengers management problems continue to hound Heathrow airport, the gateway to London and the Olympics and Paralympics 2012.
Immigration queues are just the tip of the iceberg of problems travellers may encounter when landing at Britain's main hub.
BAA spent quite some resources to boost up the status of London Heathrow ahead of the summer Olympic Games. However, the picture beginning to surface may induce some to thinking that resources were invested into window dressing rather than structural improvements.
The experience becomes more frustrating for passengers with disabilities or reduced mobility. Airlines' employees are not shy to paint a non-flattering picture of ground services BAA provides to PRMs arriving at London Heathrow.
"A great deal of long-haul flights have passengers requiring a wheelchair, it does not matter which company lands at Heathrow," an airline employee told Reduced Mobility Rights. "They all suffer, at some point or other, having to wait for BAA ground service to appear or reappear for the wheelchair staff are stretched."
According to operators on the ground, everyday passengers are left high and dry waiting for wheelchairs. It can take anything from 5 to 45 minutes for BAA assistance service to show up at the aircraft door.
These delays are not only cause of grievance for PRMs. Flight turnaround times are also affected, causing more misery for all passengers.
Another element that meets the eye are the oddly shaped wheelchairs BAA has in service at Heathrow Terminals. “I would not move until I get my own wheelchair. I cannot sit in these horrible airport wheelchairs," a wheelchair bound frequent flyer told Reduced Mobility Rights.
Then there is the chapter of discrimination towards children with disabilities travelling through London Heathrow. The Civil Aviation Authority has opened an investigation into this problem.
David Cameron suggests raising landing fees to cover the cost of hiring more immigration officers. Hike a tax to finance a patch.
More rainy clouds are brewing, with Olympics and Paralympics volunteers hired as London Ambassadors to be stationed at Heathrow terminals lamenting poor training and lack of direction.
Stakeholders are starting to call for more transparency from BAA. London Heathrow already charges one of the highest airport taxes in the world. It is probably time to ask BAA to detail where the money goes.
On paper, the UK's number 1 hub is flushed with cash. However, some of the services the airport provides hardly compete with third world airfields. Full disclosure on where and how the money is spent is the milestone upon which a better Heathrow can be built.
The upcoming Olympics and Paralympics are the perfect opportunity to bring transparency to the plate. Unlike Apollo 13, solving the many crises Heathrow is experiencing is not about bringing three men back to earth. It is about saving face to the United Kingdom.