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As Heathrow airport winds down its venerable Terminal 1, British Airways will operate only from T3 and T5 from June. The logistics are challenging but the outcome already evident: a smoother passenger experience at the world’s busiest airport. By Philip Heard
Since acquiring bmi in 2012, BA has been flying from three terminals – T1, T3 and the airline’s main home, T5. But the opening of the new T2 last year has set in motion a host of airline moves that will enable Heathrow to close T1 and BA to consolidate into two terminals. When the process is complete, the airline will operate nearly 120 destinations from T5 and 21 from T3.
Flights to Belfast and Dublin moved from T1 to T5 last year, using new gates that can handle both domestic and international arrivals. Over at T3, 95 per cent of BA’s services now use jetties, rather than coaching, offering quicker disembarkation – especially useful for anyone on tight connections.
From October, T3 will run both short- and long-haul flying. Deciding which long-haul routes to move from T5 was a balance between operational and commercial needs, as BA’s schedule planning manager, David Smith, explains: “Some long-haul will go to T3 to smooth out some of the busy peaks at T5,” he says. “Where possible, you don’t want to force routes with big connecting flows to move.” Services to Miami, Denver, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Vancouver, Cape Town, Accra and Nairobi will be from T3 from October. And Miami will become the latest route to be served by the Airbus A380 ‘super jumbo’.
By the summer, BA will be the sole tenant in T1, and the last routes will move out in June. Short-haul services to Hanover, Lyon, Luxembourg, Marseilles and Bilbao will head to T3, while the mid-haul routes to Amman, Baku, Beirut and Cairo will move to T5.
Being co-located with BA’s joint business (American Airlines, Iberia, JAL and Finnair) and oneworld partners in T3 makes it a collegiate community, but with a need for improved connectivity with T5. A temporary Flight Connections Centre will open in T3 for two summer seasons, before a permanent facility opens. There will also be a new unaccompanied minors’ lounge and eligible customers will be invited to use the American Airlines arrivals lounge.
Another important initiative will see the T5 baggage system link via a tunnel to BA’s check-in area at T3. This new system, with enough conveyor belt to stretch between Heathrow and Wembley Stadium, will increase the number of bags T3 can handle from 5,200 to 7,200 an hour. Connecting bags will travel between T3 and T5 in individual carts through a purpose-built tunnel at 26mph. As a result, the check-in area will move temporarily before settling into a new home from September.
The closure of T1 at Heathrow will create a numerical anomaly, leaving Heathrow with four terminals, T2 to T5. It’s in illustrious company: New York JFK has six terminals, ranging from T1 to T8, and down from ten when it first opened. T9 and T10 are long gone, but T6 and T3, which included the much-lamented but no longer fit-for-purpose T3 were more recently reshaped by the wrecking ball. T3 was formerly the Pan Am pagoda known as the Worldport, a classic of early-1960s design.