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Last Updated: Friday, 14 March 2008, 20:31 GMT

Back to reality at Heathrow's T1

By Julian Joyce
BBC News, Heathrow

Heathrow's Terminal 1
The ambiance at Terminal 1 is nothing to write home about
If anyone stands to benefit most from the opening of Heathrow airport's Terminal 5, say its supporters, it's the “poor infantry” of the air travel world – Heathrow's long-suffering passengers.

Regular flyers who attended the pomp and ceremony of the new terminal's official launch may have been left with a distinct feeling of unreality.

From the fake destinations on the state-of-the-art arrival boards, to the actors who choreographed their "fond farewells" as pretend passengers for the benefit of the press, there was a sense that all was not as it should be.

However reality, in all its grubby and overcrowded forms, was available in spades just a short bus ride away - within the confines of Heathrow's infamous Terminal 1, built in 1968 and, according to British Airways passenger Alan Jones, "definitely showing its age".

Dim lighting

As he checked in for his flight to Glasgow, hundreds of fellow passengers struggled with a myriad of different, dimly lit check-in desks, long queues for security and numerous confusing signs.

Distorted loudspeaker announcements competed with the sound of hammers and electric drills as workmen behind scaffolding laboured to refurbish the terminal's retail area.

Outside in the drizzle, other passengers negotiated the Heathrow "maze" to and from the Underground and central bus stations.

Terminal 1 is definitely not my favourite airport. I try and avoid it if I can because of the congestion, delay and stress it causes
Alan Jones

Compared with the airy vastness of the Terminal 5 building, the contrast could not be more marked.

Instead of sunlight pouring in through a huge sweeping steel and glass roof, the artificial light in Terminal 1's departure hall gave everyone's face the same sickish hue.

Here, there were none of the 90-plus "quick-drop" bag check-in points. And instead of the clearly marked routes to trains, buses and motorways, travellers faced long and sometimes confusing walks to catch a tube or bus home.

Mr Jones said: "Terminal 1 is definitely not my favourite airport. I try and avoid it if I can because of the congestion, delay and stress it causes to travel."

He said it usually took up to 40 minutes to check in and go through security - even for the internal flights that British Airways operates from Terminal 1.

From 27 March, when BA moves wholesale to T5, it is forecast that the time will halve to just 20 minutes - 10 minutes to check in and 10 to go through security.

Queue after queue

For IT project manager Sophie Martin, who flies on BA flights every two weeks, that move cannot come soon enough.

"The process at the moment is pretty complex," she said. "I have to queue for the check-in desk and then you have to go somewhere else to check in your bag.

"Then, if I need to change my seat or book a different flight I have to join another for BA's customer service.

Carlos Carraera
They need to do something to change this
Carlos Carraera
"And then eventually when you make it to the security gate, you find huge queues.

"If they've managed to improve it so it is a more streamlined process, then that will be a huge improvement."

For Heathrow's bosses, Terminal 5 offers relief not just for British Airways passengers but for the millions of other travellers using the other overcrowded terminals.

Heathrow managing director Mark Bullock said: "The airport was designed to cater for 40 million passengers a year. We currently deal with 68 million.

"We think Terminal 5 will take 30 million passengers off that total. That means that everywhere else is going to feel a lot better - and much less crowded."

Overseas passengers like Portuguese seaman Carlos Carraera are likely to see the difference.

Although he wasn't flying on British Airways today, the fact that BA are clearing out of Terminal 1 is going to make life for travellers like him much easier.

Waiting for his flight to Lisbon, he had a good vantage point in his seat opposite the security gate where he witnessed the pushing and ill-humour as a long queue of passengers waited to check in.

"There is a lot of confusion here - there are too many people. They are bumping into each other and having arguments," he said. "They need to do something to change this."

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