Problems Plague Heathrow Airport's New Terminal

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London's Heathrow Airport opened a new terminal last week that was expected to help relieve congestion in one of the world's busiest airports. But that hasn't been the case. Major problems with the baggage handling system caused British Airways to delay and cancel flights in the first few days.


Passenger's at London's Heathrow Airport face more delays today. Since its new multi-billion dollar terminal opened last week, glitches have forced the cancellation of hundreds of flights.

Larry Miller reports from London.

LARRY MILLER: British Airways Chief Executive Willie Walsh claims the baggage handling system at Heathrow's brand-new Terminal 5 is now generally working well.

He made the comment as 400 baggage handlers volunteered to manually process 15,000 pieces of stranded luggage. Problems with a high-tech baggage system began soon after the $8.6 billion terminal opened last Thursday. The high-tech part worked too well. For a variety of reasons, there weren't enough baggage handlers on plane-side to load and unload luggage. And with a conveyor belt spinning out up to 12,000 pieces an hour, it wasn't long until the whole thing ground to a halt.

To prevent more luggage piling up, British Airways canceled over 250 flights in the first few days and warns there will most likely be more cancellations this week. Passengers also suffered long delays.

Most of the elevators are broken and the phones also didn't work. Passenger rights groups say British Airways gave misleading information to stranded travelers about compensation due them for the delays. That could mean the airline will face European Union fines of up to $10,000 per stranded passenger.

For NPR News, I'm Larry Miller in London.

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