The T5 experience

First, just a quick re-cap on O R Tambo airport in Johannesburg. Last year I witnessed the new lavish, spacious departure lounge for the first time. It’s very nice and a vast improvement on the cramped and disorganised departure lounge of the past. Unfortunately check-in, security and passport control are still an utter nightmare.

Speaking of nightmares, let’s move on to Heathrow’s Terminal 5. Yesterday I noticed that BAA’s Chief Executive Colin Matthews had stated “BAA fully recognises that the inauguration of Terminal 5 has not been as smooth as we and BA would have wished”. No, really?

So, here’s my guided tour of the T5 arrival experience:

  • Disembark the plane – delayed three minutes because of something
  • Walk a fair distance (although some of it is covered by moving walk-ways)
  • Go down three flights of stairs
  • Wait for a little shuttle train which isn’t big enough for a 747-size load of passengers
  • Get off the little train and go up double escalators (which aren’t big enough to comfortably handle a 747-size load of passengers)
  • Go up another set of escalators, past the unfinished walls – anyone over six foot should duck to avoid the sharp metal frame hanging down over said escalators
  • Go through passport control
  • Go down the escalators to baggage reclaim
  • Hunt for the right baggage carousel because the announcement board wasn’t working

At this point, after many changes in altitude (down, up, down again), I was ready to pick up my suitcase and be on my way. I arrived at this point at 06:50, about half an hour after the airplane had landed. At about 07:00 an announcement stated that they apologised for the late arrival of baggage from Joburg and they were doing everything possible to get it to the carousel quickly. At 07:25 (over an hour after landing) some suitcases appeared. And after a while a few more arrived. I picked mine up at 07:40 – after fifty minutes of waiting.

Now here comes my ‘favourite’ bit. I had to go upstairs to departures to meet the minicab (that’s their arrangement, and it is less busy up there so a good idea really). So how do you get upstairs? Easy, take an escalator. Which is what I did… I went up the first one, did a u-turn to go up the next one… and found that it was coming down. Yep, the first up escalator was met by a down escalator. A member of staff was standing nearby, and I asked about the logic of this and how I was supposed to get upstairs. He pointed to a nearby lift. It’s a shame ‘One Foot In The Grave’ has finished, because they could do a one-hour special with Victor Meldrew arriving back at T5 from holiday. The scary thing is that the script would write itself.


  1. Is it just me or is the UK going through a bit of a lean spell as far as great engineering achievements goes?

    T5 seems like a complete nightmare. I have yet to hear anything good about it. I dare say it will come good but how long will it take and how many people will it p**s off before it works properly.
    I guess you have to draw comparison with Wembley Stadium which also got a lot of bad press for being late, over budget, etc, but now it is done, people seem to love it.

    The only shining beacon in this mire of engineering and building incompetence is…… Emirates Stadium. On budget, on time and widely acknowledged as being one of the best club stadiums anywhere in the world.

    See it can be done.

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