Frequent travelers know there will always be problems traveling. What separates the great companies from poor ones is how they handle the problems. In that regard, Heathrow Airport Ltd is the bottom of the barrel.
Some problems are (usually) the fault of the airline. A few examples include flight delays due to late arrival of crew or technical malfunctions with the aircraft, delayed or lost baggage, and so forth. Airlines know that travelers see such problems as caused by the airlines, whether they were or not, so the airlines (usually) try to "make things right" for the traveler.
But, what happens when the airport operator is clearly at fault? If it's Heathrow Airport Ltd: nothing.
In my case, Heathrow Airport Ltd (operator of Heathrow - code LHR), supplied such a poor-quality jetway (the connector between the aircraft and the terminal gate) for my arriving flight on Austrian Airlines that the jetway door to the aircraft simply wouldn't open. After assessing this for at least 10 minutes, buses were called and the passengers in the very full plane slowly deplaned via the rear door, down stairs, into buses that came one by one, and were taken to someplace in Terminal 2. The result was that, although the flight arrived ontime at 6:40 pm, I did not get into Terminal 2 until 7:15 pm. I already knew I was in trouble for making my connection - a British Airways flight departing from Gate C57 in Terminal 5 at 8:05 pm.
If you know LHR, you know it's a behemoth of an airport. Even with running through the common areas and up/down the several escalators, I did not get to Gate C57 until 8:00 pm - just 10 minutes after the flight closed. The gate attendants then sent me all the way back to Flight Connections (a 15-minute journey when you're going "against traffic") to rebook.
What happened next is what surprised me. It's not that British Airways took no responsibility for getting me a hotel or providing a hotel voucher. Why should they? They didn't cause the problem. (Although, I did find it amusing that the BA Desk Agent tried to suggest the jetway failure was the fault of Austrian Airlines - not of a British company.) It's when I asked to speak with a manager from the airport operator - Heathrow Airport Ltd.
First, I was sent to Airport Security (!), where two very pleasant managers stated that Airport Security operates the airport other than 9 am to 5 pm Monday to Friday. Rubbish, of course. Then, upon hearing my full story, they backed away from that line of reasoning and said they would call their supervisor. This person first said an operations manager would be sent to speak with me. But, within 5 minutes, the same person called back to say no one will come, no one is responsible for this problem, and no one will provide any voucher or any other assistance.
In their favour, the two kindly managers were embarrassed - they could see this reply was simply awful - and so they found some phone numbers for passenger assistance and provided the name of the Director of Terminals, a Mr Tom Willis. Alas, Mr Willis does not take phone calls - he can be reached only by eMail. I was also given the name of Mr John Holland-Kaye, who I was told is the Managing Director of Heathrow Airport Ltd, as another person to whom I should send a written complaint. I was also told that "complaint management" has taken great strides for the better since the last time I was in Terminal 5 - the day it opened, when my bags were not loaded, I was forced to stay overnight, I was interviewed by Richard Quest live in CNN about my impressions of it all (to say the least: not favourable) and British Airports Authority (the name at that time) similarly did nothing to help.
From all the above, please allow me to summarize five bottom lines for you:
1. If you can possibly avoid London Heathrow Airport (LHR), do so. It's quite a lot to say that, by comparison, it makes JFK Airport in New York seem quite user-friendly.
2. If you cannot avoid LHR, at least avoid British Airways. The issue is that all BA flights arrive at and depart from Terminal 5 - which means you will likely have problems.
3. If you must travel on British Airways, do not do so on any itinerary with less than two full hours between flights. My problem was partly because I had "only" 1 hour and 25 minutes between flights. This was a perfectly "legal" connection that I would have made had the jet way been working properly - although I would still have had to walk quickly for the entire transfer.
4. Keep in mind that, if you travel in Economy, you have almost no rights. When I reached Gate C57, and the flight had clearly departed, I asked if I could be transferred to another flight that had just started boarding. The reply? "Are you traveling in Business Class? Oh, I see you're booked in Economy. Well, you can't make it then."
5. Keep in mind that, if you are not a citizen of the EU, you have no rights. The British, German, and other country laws regarding air travel and how airlines must treat passengers are all written with EU citizens in mind - each major clause generally starts with, "Citizens of the EU"
I hope that helps. "Happy Travels"
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