The latest woe to befall the muppet show that is Heathrow Terminal Four – telling all the British Airways economy and premium economy passengers that they can’t take any hold baggage because the baggage handling system has broken down again!
When I first heard the details of the plane crash at Heathrow yesterday, my first thought was quite what a lucky escape everybody had. The flight was coming in from the east, so would have done the traditional run over central and west London known to so many people – indeed news reports last night were showing this YouTube video of the same approach, on the same kind of plane, to the same runway – which does go to show you quite how populated the areas under the approach actually are. The pilot yesterday managed to get the plane across the perimeter road, and although he hit the ground before the runway, it was within the airfield.
However, the big question now is what went wrong. Reports are saying that the pilot had told an airport worker that all the electronics had failed, and he had lost all power. That would have left the pilot with nothing but the emergency manual backup to the fully fly-by-wire systems to bring the plane in.
It also reminded me of comments that I heard from someone who worked for British Airways on aircraft maintenance for many years, finishing his career working on the 777 fleet, bemoaning the differences with the modern planes. On the older planes the mechanics that keep the whole thing going are fairly straightforward – there is a mechanical link between the pilots controls and the fundamental components that keep the plane in the air. With modern planes such as the 777, the links are electronic – essentially the pilot controls a computer which then controls the fundamental components, and the computer is essentially a black box. Fixing a fault involves removing one black box and putting in another – as he said, you can’t visually check the fundamentals, and you are essentially trusting in the skill of the electronics specialists that what is inside the black box does what it says.
Whilst it could be some sort of power system fault, some component having been improperly replaced, I really wouldn’t want to be a software engineer working at Boeing over the next few days. It definitely makes me glad that the bugs in my software are not a life or death situation like this…
Back at Christmas I posted a big grumble about the fiasco that is Heathrow Terminal 4 – a piece that even got me quoted in the Times. Heading over to France this last week, we went with British Airways, again from Terminal 4, this time into Geneva Airport in Switzerland.
So first up, there have been changes with the notorious ‘Fast Bag Drop’… Yes, rather than sort out the problems, they’ve just dropped the word ‘Fast’ from the title. Interestingly they’ve also done the same in Geneva, but as with Calgary we’d checked in and put the bags through in a few minutes there, unlike the twenty minute queue at Heathrow.
The other hassle we had last time was caused by the lack of available gates in the terminal, and it was the same this time around as we were bussed out to a remote stand. This didn’t cause us much of a delay going out, but coming back the inbound plane was over an hour late, entirely due to the same situation. According to the crew on the plane, they had been ready to go on time, but the flight coming out to Geneva had about twenty special needs passengers. Bear in mind that all of this would have been known to British Airways, but the plane was again on a remote stand. Whereas in Geneva the special needs passengers were taken off without too much of a delay over the air bridge, at Heathrow where on the remote stand the only access to the plane is up steps, it took them over an hour to load the passengers, resulting in such a delay that our plane took off only a minute or two before the next Geneva to London flight. It had one advantage though, when we touched down at Heathrow, they did put our flight onto a free gate at terminal 4, so at least we didn’t have to contend with the interminable wait for busses.
Thankfully all our baggage arrived – although considering that on the same day the Telegraph were running a story about the airlines selling off some of the hundreds of thousands that fail to be returned in the paper that was being given out, you couldn’t blame people for being worried that they wouldn’t!
Although we can do little to avoid Heathrow or Gatwick when heading to Canada – certainly it might be worth considering the Eurostar/TGV option next time we head to TaizÃ©.
â€œA particular focus will be the UK, where unique screening policies inconvenience passengers with no improvement in security. The only beneficiary is the airport operator BAA that continues to deliver embarrassingly low service levels by failing to invest in appropriate equipment and staff to meet demand. This must stop.â€?
He seems pretty clear that BAA aren’t interested in delivering a good service, and are more interested in making money. Certainly after the second baggage backlog in under a year, following on from the almost identical problem back in January (and BBC Online has even used the same picture…) it’s not surprising that increasing numbers of people are calling Heathrow an embarrassment. My impression when going through the airport over recent years is that all the money has gone into shops and retail space, stuff that makes money for BAA…
Some are saying that people should vote with their feet, but having said that, what are the other options? Gatwick? It’s also owned by BAA, and is also at capacity – the simple answer is that aside from short haul options, where a number of the regional airports are picking up passengers for most people there is not much option than to use Heathrow.
If you look carefully in the travel section of yesterdays Sunday Times, you’ll see what can happen if you grumble about something on your blog – in this case the spectacularly misnamed ‘Fast Bag Drop’ at Heathrow. The target of the article is the British Airways operation, however the Air Canada equivalent at the airport is no better.
Steve Bleach, the reporter in question sent me an e-mail last week. He’d had a pretty hellish attempt at dropping off the bags on his last transatlantic flight (at least we didn’t have to keep children entertained in the queue when we had to wait), and decided to write an item about it in the paper, and thought he’d have a search online and see if anyone else had problems. He’d come across a number of postings, including ours. Basically I called him back, and we shared ‘Fast Bag Drop’ chaos stories, part of which is quoted in the paper. Certainly from that article it seems that the situation is no better at Gatwick.
Anyway, things are no better when you get to the other end either – check out this clip of the sight that greeted a passenger trying to collect his luggage in Las Vegas…