Page last updated at 20:40 GMT, Monday, 31 March 2008 21:40 UK

28,000 bags caught in T5 foul-up

Bags piled up at Heathrow
BA says staff are working "around the clock" to clear the backlog

It will take up to a week to return 28,000 bags placed in temporary storage after troubles at Heathrow's Terminal 5, a government minister has said.

Aviation Minister Jim Fitzpatrick said the opening of the 4.3bn terminal had fallen "well short of expectations".

British Airways said the backlog was now about 20,000 bags, which had to be checked before they could be returned.

T5's VIP section was a possible entry point for the Olympic torch on Saturday but it is to arrive at another suite.

A spokeswoman for BAA, which runs Heathrow, said the decision was "entirely operational", and the Olympic flame and torch relay crew will be arriving on an Air China flight via the airport's Royal Suite.

"This is standard practice for VIP arrivals at Heathrow," she said. "The Athens torch relay crew also arrived in the same way in 2004."

Bags are having to be transported to other sites at or near Heathrow to be rescreened manually. This process is extremely time-consuming
BA spokesman

Mr Fitzpatrick, who visited the blighted T5 on Sunday, said passengers had suffered an "unacceptably poor travel experience" and they should receive the compensation they are legally entitled to.

He said 28,000 bags had been placed in temporary storage by the end of the weekend.

BA - which has sole use of the terminal - had previously said the backlog was around 15,000 but it now estimates "slightly" more than 20,000 bags need "reprocessing and rescreening" before they can be loaded on to planes.

A spokesman said: "Because we are unable to use the automated system for reprocessing and rescreening delayed bags in Terminal 5, bags are having to be transported to other sites at or near Heathrow to be rescreened manually before being brought back to be loaded on flights to their destinations.

"This process is extremely time-consuming."

Once checked, he added, some bags will be sent to other airports for sorting and delivery.

Inquiry calls

The disruption at T5 has continued for a fifth day, with 54 flights cancelled.

BA said most baggage-handling problems which blighted T5's launch on Thursday had been resolved, but chief executive Willie Walsh warned more flights may be cancelled.

Almost 250 flights in and out of T5 were cancelled during its first four days because of a series of "teething problems".

Delayed passengers on Friday
Many passengers faced delays or cancellations at T5's launch

These included glitches with its new baggage-handling system, a temporary suspension of luggage check-in and staff familiarisation problems.

The build-up of baggage has resulted in subsequent delays and flight cancellations.

T5's rocky start has prompted calls from the Conservatives for an inquiry into the "chaos and confusion", with shadow home secretary David Davis calling the situation "a dreadful national embarrassment".

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne also said the infrastructure project was an "incredible shambles" which "neither British Airways nor [airport operator] BAA seem to be able to put right quickly".

T5's problems have led BA to consider postponing the transfer of its long-haul operations at Terminal 4 to the new building, which had been scheduled for the end of April.

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