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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 March 2008, 23:14 GMT
Passenger fury over T5 'shambles'
By Marie Jackson
BBC News, Heathrow

Theodora Miltiadou, Irene Antonopoulos, Maria Matheou
On their way to Athens on holiday...or are they?
The grand opening of Heathrow's new terminal could not have gone much worse for the thousands of passengers whose travel plans were completely up in the air, while they remained on terra firma.

It may have cost a whopping 4bn and been hailed as a state-of-the-art gateway to Britain by the great and good, but its first passengers were tutting and cursing, not gasping in awe.

Major troubles with baggage and cancelled flights overshadowed any appreciation passengers may have had for the architectural feat and the promised easy-flow layout.

And instead of emptying their wallets in the wealth of luxury retail outlets that had been built to make the airside experience a special one for shopaholics, thousands were being told they would not be flying tonight and the only spending they would be doing would be on a hotel room for the night.

Flights were cancelled throughout the day and by the evening, people were being told only hand luggage was permitted on almost all remaining flights.

Hotel room hunt

The cursing had begun on an underground train destined for the new terminal as news reached two women by text message that T5 was "a total disaster".

On arriving at the new T5 Tube stop, the evidence was all too clear as hundreds of people with huge wheelie suitcases made an about-turn after the briefest of holidays.

Ena and Stanley Goodman
It's such a disgrace to this country that it should be such a shambles
Ena Goodman

Others were desperately trying to rebook flights and find a hotel for the night - easier said than done.

Leaflets were handed out explaining travellers were entitled to 100 a night in compensation for hotel costs. However, the reality was that hotels were quoting prices of between 150 to 200.

Some passengers who were determined to jet away from all the chaos were advised they could do so and leave their luggage safely in lockers at the airport. But that suggestion left those holidaymakers questioning whether they could spend a fortnight away without bringing a change of clothes with them.

Deeply apologetic Tannoy messages were doing little to alleviate the worry.

And airport staff were sticking to the usual stringent rules, much to passenger Ena Goodman's chagrin.

She was on her way to Paris with her husband Stanley, but missed out on boarding the flight because her suitcase was an inch too large to qualify as hand luggage.

"Surely they could relax the rules a bit, under the circumstances," she said.

Check-in computer
...but only if you don't want to take your luggage with you

"My husband will soon be 90 - it's not good for him to go through all this trauma. It's such a disgrace to this country that it should be such a shambles."

Foreign travellers were in agreement.

Asked it the terminal had impressed them, student Theodora Miltiadou, from Cyprus, laughed out loud.

"We did not expect this from British people who are so organised," she said.

Fellow student Irene Antonopoulos, also 20, said she expected a pleasant journey when booking with BA.

We are trying to book a hotel but thousands of people are probably doing the same thing
Catherine Ricketts

"But this is an embarrassment for them," she said.

A group of 74 South Koreans on a tour of Europe were also less than enamoured.

Cindy Han complained there were no litter bins nor enough seating, as she wondered whether she may be spending the night sleeping on the terminal's very shiny new floor.

Father's birthday

Catherine Ricketts, travelling to Basel with her husband and 17-month-old daughter, sympathised with the staff but said they had no idea what was happening.

"We are trying to book a hotel but thousands of people are probably doing the same thing.

"We have got to get to Basel by Saturday as it's my dad's 60th birthday. We can't miss it.

Charmaine Francis
We were really excited but our expectations have been getting lower and lower
Charmaine Francis

"We have rebooked our flight with BA but have been told there's no guarantee it's going to be fixed.

"We have got everything we need for my daughter but we will have to find somewhere for her to sleep soon."

Not everyone was despairing altogether though.

Charmaine Francis who won a trip to Hong Kong in a competition to mark Terminal 5's opening day, had been told she and her brother, Titus, may yet be able to fly.

"We were really excited but our expectations have been getting lower and lower."

And as I departed, they were left sitting tight wondering just how great the promised shopping Mecca just the other side of the security gate would have been - had they got the chance to see it.

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