- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 29, 2008

LONDON (AP) — The weekend forecast for Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 5: choppy, unsettled and likely delays.

The opening of the new, $8.6 billion terminal has become a full-scale public relations disaster for British Airways during a second day of long lines, lost luggage and even scuffles between angry, exhausted passengers.

British Airways officials said 36 of 208 round trip short-haul flights were canceled yesterday and that a smaller number of cancellations was expected over the weekend.

Airline officials are trying to work out several kinks, including in the much-lauded baggage collection system, which broke down within hours of the terminal’s opening Thursday morning, triggering a slew of cancellations.

Air travelers have been advised to check the British Airways Web site before leaving home, and passengers booked on flights due to leave from, arrive to or pass through Terminal 5 between now until 10 a.m. Monday (Greenwich Mean Time) can rebook their flights without charge.

British Airways Chief Executive Willie Walsh took responsibility for problems, but said he would not resign.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Mr. Walsh said. “I’m determined to make this work.”

Mr. Walsh said more disruptions are expected today, but that the situation will improve each day.

He did not provide specifics of the system breakdowns that bedeviled travelers Thursday and yesterday, but said a string of problems including parking difficulties and computer malfunctions combined to overstress the system despite months of preparation.

“Some of the problems we anticipated, and some of the problems I don’t believe we could have anticipated,” he said. “We clearly made mistakes.”

The fouled inauguration of the terminal provoked a flood of anger from leading British politicians, who said the meltdown at Terminal 5 has tarnished the reputation of the entire country.

Conservative Party leader David Cameron said the events cast doubt on plans for future expansion of Heathrow.

“The scenes yesterday were completely dreadful,” he said. “You feel for anyone there. It was humiliating to see that happening.”

David Frost, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said the breakdown sent “a depressing message” that would sully Britain’s business reputation throughout the world.

Airline officials and airport operator BAA PLC had hoped for a bonanza of positive publicity with the opening of the new terminal, but they had been buffeted by images of suffering travelers.

Incoming passengers were affected as well, with many waiting up to two hours for their luggage.

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