Transport Airports

Heathrow Baggage System Wreaks Havoc for Passengers

Jul 01, 2014 4:00 am

Skift Take

If the baggage retrieval system in Heathrow’s Terminal 5 is state of the art, then it’s time for an art revolution.

— Marisa Garcia

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 / BAA Airports Limited

Heathrow Airport, T5A main terminal building, Ground level, test passengers seen in baggage reclaim hall. / BAA Airports Limited


Tens of thousands of passengers who have flown through Heathrow’s Terminal 5 since last Thursday face days of delays before they see their luggage. Again.

In its official statement, Heathrow states:

“We have been experiencing intermittent issues with the Terminal 5 baggage system which has caused some bags to be processed manually. While passengers can currently check-in bags as normal, you may wish to carry essential items in hand baggage where possible.

“Flights are still operating as normal. Our engineers are closely monitoring the system. Manual processing led to some bags not making flights in time. Passengers are receiving bags all the time but it will take several days to reunite all passengers with their bags. We are very sorry for the disruption caused to passengers and we are working round the clock with airlines to reunite passengers with their bags as quickly as possible.”

The Terminal 5 baggage retrieval system is considered state-of-the-art and fully automated. As a result, the number staff on hand to deal with any issues is not what it might have been in decades’ past–when baggage handling worried passengers enough for Monty Python to dedicate a song to the issue.

The baggage system was selected for Terminal 5 expressly to avoid the challenges of manual baggage handling, with the volumes of traffic which Heathrow accommodates. Vanderlande, the Dutch company which manufactured the system, has installed automated baggage handling infrastructure at a number of other modernized airports, including Helsinki and Vanderlande’s home base in Amsterdam Schiphol.

When Terminal 5 opened in 2008, the baggage system’s inability to read employees’ IDs to allow access set off a chain of events which led to chaos, with the airport ultimately having to restrict passengers to whatever luggage they could carry with them onboard. However, the faults were corrected and the system has reportedly functioned very well since — until June 26 when the current troubles began.

Neither Heathrow nor Vanderlande responded to requests for comments.

This baggage system failure also causes headaches for British Airways, which, according to Heathrow’s statement, will be responsible to provide passengers in need with some basic necessities while they wait “several days” for their luggage to reach them.

Some British Airways’ competitors may take advantage of the situation. The Evening Standard reports that Norwegian plans to offer discounted flights from New York to Gatwick, one-way for around $257 (£150), and speculates that Ryanair and easyJet might take advantage of the opportunity.

It should be noted that Vanderlande has also installed an automated baggage retrieval system at Gatwick, and announced June 27 that it had deployed a new carousel system at Manchester Airport.

Here’s a silent video from the manufacturer showing the baggage system in working order:

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