Page last updated at 18:21 GMT, Sunday, 30 March 2008 19:21 UK

T5 baggage system 'working' - BA

Bags piled up at Heathrow
Bags have been piling up at all Heathrow terminals

The baggage handling system at Heathrow's Terminal 5 is now "generally working well", says British Airways Chief Executive Willie Walsh.

He said BA now had 400 volunteers working to clear the backlog of 15,000 bags which has built up at the airport.

"We are making every effort to reunite bags with their owners," he said.

Two hundred flights in and out of T5 were cancelled in its first three days. A further 54 will be scrapped on Monday and some may also be halted on Tuesday.

The fifth terminal had opened amid great fanfare on Thursday, but difficulties with the baggage handling system quickly derailed the operation.

Mr Walsh repeated BA's apology to passengers, saying "the service we provided has not been good enough."

The baggage handling system had experienced problems which had not come to light in testing, he said.

Bags piled up at Heathrow
Bags have been piling up at all Heathrow terminals

"These issues are being addressed as they arise by a team of engineers and IT specialists from BAA and BA", Mr Walsh said.

He said reuniting passengers with their luggage would take time, because "delayed bags must undergo enhanced levels of security screening".

This is being done manually because BA has been unable to use the Terminal Five baggage system to process the bags.

"We are sorry for the disruption and inconvenience caused to customers whose flights have been cancelled or whose bags have been delayed. We will not rest until our service has been restored to the high standard customers rightly expect." Mr Walsh added.

He said BA would continue to work towards increasing the number of services in the days ahead.

"Both British Airways and BAA have invested an enormous amount of time and effort to create Terminal Five.

"We remain confident that these early difficulties can be overcome, and that the terminal will be highly valued by customers and our staff in the near future and for many years to come."

'Full-blown tantrum'

But, at the airport on Sunday, some passengers remained critical.

Kerry Johnstone, 35, said she found out only upon arrival at T5, from the electronic board, that she faced an eight-hour delay on a flight to Copenhagen.

"Everyone has to find out when they get here," she said. "It's appalling that such a big organisation has got it so wrong. I can't check in, because they don't know what flight I'm going to be on.

"There was a two-year-old child screaming next to me. When one of the staff tried to make light of it, I said that was exactly what I felt like doing.

"I feel like having a full-blown tantrum but I'm too old."

Check-in at Terminal 5
The CAA has written to BA to ensure it safeguards passengers' rights

Transport Minister Ruth Kelly said she had spoken to airport operator BAA and BA: "While the problems at Terminal 5 are for them to resolve, I have made clear that the government stands ready to assist.

"Everything possible must be done to deliver a better service for passengers who are unfortunately still facing disruption and delays to their journeys."

The Conservatives have called for an inquiry into the "chaos and confusion", with Shadow Home Secretary David Davis calling the situation "a dreadful national embarrassment".

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

The problems have led BA to consider postponing the transfer of its long-haul operations at Terminal 4 to the new Terminal 5, which had been scheduled for the end of April.

"We haven't said we will alter the original plan," a spokesman said. "But obviously, in the light of what has happened in the last few days, it is prudent to review the situation."

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