diamond geezer

 Friday, March 28, 2008

Terminal 5After my obscure trip to Rutland, I thought I'd go somewhere that even fewer of you have visited. Heathrow Terminal 5. Yes, I know that some of you have been there in trials to test the luggage system (you could have tried harder, couldn't you?). And one of you was even on the first tube train into the terminal yesterday morning and had it all blogged before 9am (well beyond the call of duty, eh?). But I had the day off work, and the weather was sunny, and my camera battery was recharged, so off I went. I'm always inquisitive to see a brand new carbon-guzzling megastructure. Plus there was a brand new tube station to see, and there hasn't been one of those before since the turn of the century. Here are 25 photographs to whet your appetite. Go on, I know you want to know see what the place looks like.

www.flickr.com: my T5 gallery

Terminal 5 didn't look like a reputational disaster zone when I arrived. The underground station was clean and efficient, if architecturally uninspiring. OK, so the "next train" indicator seemed to be playing up a little, and I can't believe that a mere 6 ticket gates will be enough to stop queues from forming, but it's all functional enough. From down here there's a choice of either escalators or lifts to your above ground destination. If you're heading for Departures then make sure you take the lift, it'll save a tedious 5 floor ascent. And don't worry, nobody'll be taking your fingerprints on the way up.

T5QOoh, Departures. Very nice. From up here on the top deck you get a real sense of the size and scale of this monumental building. It's 400m from one end to the other, and you can see and walk all the way down from A to H. Look at that one-piece undulating roof, and see the hassled airport staff trying to update would-be travellers with the latest flight cancellations. Everything's been designed to work like clockwork. Automated check-in terminals are clustered close to luggage-dump desks, with a long row of non-glitzy shops and security gates behind. There are very few seats to sit on, but that's OK because the whole check-in procedure "should only take ten minutes". On a good day, that is. Yesterday there were unexpected queues, considerably longer than planned, and the "fast bag drop" desks proved embarrassingly badly named. Somewhere beneath our feet the miraculous new baggage-handling sysytem had gone very wrong indeed. Fortunate then that the world's media were on hand, lenses poised, to capture the full human drama of this very British triumph. Er, fiasco.

If you're only a sightseer nosing around the terminal (or if you suddenly find yourself with unexpected hours to spare), there's plenty to see close by. Go and peer out of the sort-of observation window on the southern wall and look down over the masses of identically-finned BA planes gathered round the terminal building. Or follow the T5 employees popping outside to the elevated coach drop-off lanes for a quick cigarette. It's surprisingly quiet out here, bar the occasional roaring jumbo, and aspiring plane spotters would appear to be untroubled by jobsworth security guards. Or maybe that's just a first day special offer. Oh and over there in the distance, somewhere across the M25, you can easily spot the famous silhouette of Windsor Castle. In common with many of her loyal south London subjects, I do wonder how the Queen gets any sleep at night.

T5 ArrivalsThere's one more level to explore, although it's nowhere near so impressive. Arrivals is on the ground floor, three escalators down. Personally I preferred the intermediate glass staircases, spaced out along the terminal building, although it's a 12 flight descent so better down than up. The Arrivals area is a bit dull, to be honest, bar the upward view of steel rods and hanging circles. Just as well that nobody's going to be hanging around here for long, waiting for three hours for relatives to collect their delayed baggage. From here it's a short walk to what T5 optimistically describes as the "Interchange Plaza". Or, in other words, the bus station. It's a bit gloomy, but it's nowhere near as bad as the miserable concrete dump round the back of Terminal 4.

I chose to depart not by bus (nor thankfully by plane) but back on the tube. And I ended up waiting for the lift with two clearly-annoyed ladies, their anger not helped by the elevator's non-appearance. Come on, where was the button to summon the bloody thing? Ah, it must be automated, we decided. That'd be why it took us to the wrong floor and sat there, doors wide open, waiting for nobody at all to get in. "We're going home," the dear ladies sighed, clutching a pair of un-checked red suitcases. "Our flight's cancelled, and we just grew tired of waiting." The lift responded by spluttering into action and slipping gradually downwards, taking British Airways' reputation with it.

n.b. A few weeks ago I was approached by a T5 marketing presence offering a variety of promotional T5 widgets and T5 images for my blog, should I be interested. There was even a special YouTube interview with Ian Bailey, designer of the Terminal 5 baggage system, which they hoped I'd link to. Well Claudio, good news, I have now.

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Life viewed from London E3

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