Commons Gate

The Opening of Heathrow Terminal 5 (HC 543-ii)

Transport Committee 9 Jul 2008

Labour Party logo

Evidence given by
Steve Turner, National Secretary for Civil Air Transport, Iggy Vaid, Senior Shop Steward Rizwan Aziz, Branch Chair, BAA Heathrow Ms Jackie Reed, Trade Union Side Secretary, BAA Heathrow Stan Peters, BAA Shop Steward
3.45 BAA Colin Matthews, Chief Executive Terry Morgan, Acting Managing Director, Heathrow Airport.

Q211 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Would it have been possible to do it before the airport opened?

Mr Vaid: I did have a concern that so far it was just a building site and there was some hindrance to that as well. For instance, even now we have a second switch and I am sure that for that British Airways has learned from that. Previously, it was three days of familiarisation; now we have seven days. We now have three days of familiarisation and four days of hands on training before moving in.

Q212 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Was there any difference in wage rates and income for the people moving into T5? Was there a financial incentive or disincentive for the people to move to T5?

Mr Vaid: There was no wage difference whatsoever; it is the same rate of pay for everyone. If you ask whether there was enough overtime over there and so on I think there was plenty of it, so it was not a problem.

Q213 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I am pleased to see you here today. You have said that it was more important to get things right than to come to our evidence session on 7 May. Was there any pressure from management at all not to appear before the Committee in May?

Mr Turner: No. First, perhaps I can say that I was not available to attend the Committee on 7 May.

Q214 Chairman: We did receive a communication from you.

Mr Turner: I was not available to attend and sent my apologies, but I did make some points about the necessity to put things right and they stand. There has been no pressure put on our people from BA or BAA in respect of our attendance.


Q229 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I have listened very carefully. I presume that in the other terminals there was a traditional method of working that probably had remained unchanged for many years though there had been some developments. Then you saw Terminal 5 being built. You have just mentioned pride in that, but was there also some apprehension about the change? How did management motivate you to take pride in this building and get involved in it? Did that happen, or were you just told what you had to do?

Mr Vaid: When you ask how the staff was motivated, it is a shame I have to say - I tell the truth - that if you asked staff whether they would remain in Terminal 4 or Terminal 1 rather than go to Terminal 5 a majority would rather be in T4 or T1.

Q230 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): That is now. What was it like before it opened?

Mr Vaid: Before there was enthusiasm about having a new terminal and everything else. When they learned the way that they were to work and what the process was to be they were not as enthusiastic to go there. That is not to say that for those who did go there was some sort of difficulty because they did not want to go; they did the best they could.

Q231 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): So, did the management underestimate the change in work practices that people would have to undertake?

Mr Vaid: I would say that they did not take the staff into their confidence and say that this is the new way of working; that is how it is done and we introduce it but if they think they cannot pick up everything in one day it will be introduced slowly. That was not done.

Q232 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Do you think management has learned the lessons of what went wrong?

Mr Vaid: They are still more or less on the same path, but since the chief executive of British Airways has taken charge of it and wants to know exactly what is going on every day and so on they are more focused on training and everything else, so they have accepted some accountability.

Q233 Chairman: Would any other witness like to add to that or disagree with that?

Mr Peters: I think that BA management has also learned. You can see from the restructuring that they would want to work with the trade union and want to do things better, so some good has come out of it. One hopes that if they have another project like this they will involve the trade union and maybe we can work together. Nobody knows the workforce better than the trade union; it knows it much better than the management. I am afraid that is how it is. Therefore, we would have told them that we should be doing this or that. Obviously, it is a public company and we all recognise that it wants to make a profit, but I think that on the whole they are listening to us and trying to work with us rather than telling us. Before they told us rather than consulted us.

Q234 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Since the opening the Select Committee has made a visit. We were shown round and everything seemed to be running smoothly. Is that the case? Was it a hiccup and has it been put right, or are there still major problems to be overcome?

Mr Vaid: I still do not believe that we have got the basics right. As proof of that, just before I came in I worked out that every day in Terminal 5 932 bags do not connect with transfer passengers. That is the average for the whole month.

Q235 Chairman: Can you clarify what you are saying?

Mr Vaid: What I am saying is that of the total number of bags of transfer passengers flying from Terminal 5 at Heathrow, an average of 932 are not connected with the passenger; they may go the next day or the day after that.

Q236 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): You are saying that a passenger has a one in 12 chance of losing his bag if he transfers across, so there are still problems there?

Mr Vaid: Yes.

Q237 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): To come back to some of your comments, when they were building the new terminal they were going to install the new technology; they were not going to build it as a big replica of Terminal 4.

Mr Vaid: Yes.

Q238 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): The fault seems to be that they did not really consult about putting it in and did not train the people properly when they did so. Is that correct?

Mr Vaid: They never asked the trade union side what the best system should be. We could have explained it. Nevertheless, we understand that we must have new technology; times are changing and everything else. If they had taken people into their confidence we would have told them exactly which way we thought it would work. Obviously, we have to make savings and do everything else, but we were not consulted. It was the process engineers who thought up exactly how that system needed to work and we were there to implement that process.

Mr Turner: A couple of points emerge from the question. What has occurred here is that BA has used an opportunity in conjunction with BAA and Terminal 5 to change the method of operating completely. There has not really been any consultation with the trade unions in the run-up to that; certainly there has been no meaningful consultation and none of the views expressed by the trade union has been taken seriously by the company. The manner in which those changes have been introduced despite the failings at the opening of Terminal 5 means that the system of work is in place and still results in significant numbers of bags not accompanying passengers. It will happen today and tomorrow, just as it happened last week and last month.

Q239 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): But is it getting better?

Mr Vaid: Yes, it has got better.

Q240 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): It is getting better week by week?

Mr Vaid: It is getting better, but obviously if they discuss with us a change of process I think it would get much better. We have to do it; there is no other alternative.

Mr Turner: A second point is the day when Terminal 5 opened and the days immediately following that. Irrespective of all the teething problems that we experienced with the RDS systems and all the genuine difficulties that we continue to have with RDS and that manner of work, I genuinely believe that we would still have managed the opening of Terminal 5 had it not been for the software problems in the system itself. The patches introduced previously for the trials were not removed and by the time they were identified and removed we had huge backlogs of bags and it was impossible to address the problem on day one.

Q241 Chairman: It is the software that you are identifying as a key point?

Mr Turner: Yes. While the trials were going on software patches were introduced to prevent bags being transferred to other terminals and the transfer of sensitive information to other sources because it was not required; it was a trial and the bags were going round in an enclosed system; they did not need to divert to Terminal 1 or Terminal 4 for transfer and information did not need to be relayed to third parties. With the opening of Terminal 5 all of those patches needed to be removed because bags then needed to be transferred.

Q242 Chairman: Are you saying that in the trials in relation to the software what happened did not reflect the real live situation?

Mr Turner: Yes, and they could not. They were running bags round a system and testing the validity of the system itself. There was no necessity to transfer bags from that system to Terminal 1; there were no passengers; it was purely a trial. Therefore, patches were put onto the system to prevent the electronics in the system transferring the bags.

Q243 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): And they forgot to take them off?

Mr Turner: Whether or not they forgot to take them off is a different question because BA were assured that they were removed.


Q302 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Obviously, the opening was a major PR disaster. I think you made reference to June 5 when there were no problems at all. Surprise, surprise, there was no media coverage about it, was there? Do you feel aggrieved about that?

Mr Matthews: No, absolutely not. The airport's job is to do fantastically well but we do not need to be visible. I think that for us success is that a passenger buys a ticket from Virgin or British Airways, has a great experience and is conscious only that he or she has had a good flight. I do not see why the passenger should be specifically conscious of BAA's performance, so I will settle for not being visible.

Q303 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): You got off to a bad start. How do you convince the general public that Terminal 5 is where they should fly to?

Mr Matthews: I think we need to be modest. To suggest we are perfect is a mistake because we are not. Therefore, I think the answer to your question is that so far more than four million passengers have passed through T5, the vast majority of whom I believe have had a good experience. Therefore, the reputation of T5 substantially will return because we have millions of people passing through it and saying to themselves and colleagues and friends that it was a good experience. Perhaps that is too "engineering". I am an engineer, not a marketing person, but I think that what will recover reputation is millions of people who are pleased with their experience.

Q304 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): You mean it is a bit like the National Health Service. Those who use it find it is good; those who do not need it have a different view of it?

Mr Matthews: I believe that people whose memories of Terminal 5 are coloured by the opening days should come back and try it and see that it is working well.

This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.

The full transcript may be read here.

Legislative Work page | Return to Homepage

On behalf of Eric Martlew, 3 Chatsworth Square Carlisle Cumbria CA1 1HB