The failure of BA’s T5 promise

Watching the unfolding PR disaster for British Airways over the catastrophe surrounding the new Terminal 5 at Heathrow airport during the past 48 hours, one word springs to mind.

Expectations.

For the past day and a half, the newspapers and TV news have been full of images of chaos at T5: cancelled flights, nightmare baggage handling (BA already has a pretty poor track record with baggage handling), passengers sleeping overnight in the terminal building, confused employees, angry travellers, and so on.

Hardly the outcome anyone would expect after the build-up to the opening of the brand new building, the largest covered edifice in the UK and the eventual new home for all BA flight operations at Heathrow.

Over the past few months, superlatives have readily tripped off BA’s tongue about the amazingness of their new terminal and the wonderful experiences everyone would enjoy as it ushers in a new era of stress-free travel.

"Upgrade to British Airways new Terminal 5," says BA’s new T5 website which extols the virtues of this architectural wonder, including a moving image sequence highlighting various aspects of the expected passenger experience, such as illustrated in the screenshot above about the new baggage handling system.

Oh that the starting passenger experience had actually matched this utopian promise!

It seems obvious that too much of the T5 promise has been built on quicksand – what many would readily describe as PR spin.

Lots of stories of employees not knowing what to do or how to operate equipment, for instance. People getting confused by signage on how to get to the terminal, the failure of the baggage handling system from the start, etc.

This leaves the communicators with not a great deal around which to construct positive messages. And at least they’re admitting some mistakes.

Now just waiting for someone to trot out the favoured phrase at times like this: "Lessons will be learned," etc.

In any case, what I find hard to understand is that BA have been preparing for this for over six months including a dry run with thousands of potential travellers and employees just a few months ago.

Didn’t they find and fix the glitches then? I guess not. Surely they cannot have imagined that everything on The Day would actually be as serene as their new T5 website portrays?

Or maybe they did as all the PR talk indicates. If so, that’s more alarming than the chaos that has ensued.

Still, once they sort it all out, no doubt Terminal 5 will live up to some sort of passenger experience expectation.

If anyone is still willing to trust BA, that is.

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