London’s Heathrow airport welcomed its first passengers to a 2.5 billion-pound ($4.2 billion) terminal today, aiming to avoid the chaos of the last major opening and bolster its case for remaining a major hub.
More than 2,400 passengers had arrived on flights at Terminal 2 as of 12:30 p.m. U.K. time while 1,800 had checked in for departures. The first flight to use the building, which replaces facilities from the 1950s, was a United Airlines Boeing Co. 767 from Chicago. Flights are initially capped at 10 percent of capacity to allow time to work out any system snags, after the debut of Heathrow’s Terminal 5 in 2008 led to a baggage-handling glitch that cost 16 million pounds in expenses and lost revenue.
With undulating ceilings and a plaza-like departure zone, Terminal 2 adds no new capacity and instead will help Heathrow counter the glitz of newer hubs in the Persian Gulf, according to chief executive-designate John Holland-Kaye. The biggest challenge may be a unique experiment in scrapping dedicated check-in desks for the 23 Star Alliance airlines that will use the building.
“It’s never been done before at any airport where you have so many carriers working together to implement common check-in,” said Justin Erbacci, the alliance’s vice president for customer experience and technology. Moving Star carriers to one terminal from three before will also halve minimum connection times to 60 minutes -- if the new system works as planned.
Some 600 flights were canceled or delayed after the botched opening of Terminal 5, and Heathrow is anxious to avoid any repeat as it campaigns for the right to add a third runway after operating close to capacity since the start of the decade.
“We’re in as good a shape as we can be at this stage, given how complex opening a new terminal is,” Holland-Kaye said, adding that Heathrow has prepared through more than 180 trials with thousands of volunteers standing in as passengers, handling 4,000 bags an hour versus a likely peak of 2,400.
The reduction in time spent checking in, clearing security and walking to gates means people will have more chance to shop and eat, with U.K. companies including department store chain John Lewis Partnership Plc and pub operator Fuller Smith & Turner Plc among those showcased at Heathrow for the first time.
The building will also boast Michelin-starred chef Heston Blumenthal’s first terminal venue. With a wood-burning stove and ice cream made with liquid nitrogen, The Perfectionists’ Cafe will vie for airport honors with outlets from Gordon Ramsey in Terminal 5 and Jamie Oliver at London Gatwick.
“The idea is perfection doesn’t exist, it’s subjective, but a perfectionist is somebody who keeps on wanting to make things better,” Blumenthal said in a Bloomberg Television interview. “It’s fantastic food, fast.”
Both Heathrow and Gatwick airport, 25 miles (40 kilometers) southeast, were identified in December as contenders for new capacity in initial findings from a state-appointed commission. Heathrow says its 15.6 billion-pound proposal should win out because of the extra connectivity gained in focusing flights on one major air hub.
Terminal 2 demonstrates that Heathrow remains capable of delivering “massive, complex infrastructure projects,” Holland-Kaye said. Even after its opening week hiccups, Terminal 5, dedicated to British Airways, is now regarded as one of the world’s leading airport facilities, he added.
In addition to Star members including Deutsche Lufthansa AG (LHA), Singapore Airlines Ltd. (SIA) and Air China, which control just over 20 percent of capacity at Heathrow, the building will also house Lufthansa’s low-cost Germanwings division, Ireland’s Aer Lingus Group Plc (AERL) and Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. short-haul unit.
The cap on daily passenger departures will start at 6,000, versus capacity of about 45,000, with all 26 carriers only scheduled to be fully embedded at the terminal in November. United plans to operate 34 flight arrivals and departures today, including connections to Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Newark, San Francisco and Washington.
Terminal 2 has been erected on the footprint of Heathrow’s Europa Building, designed to handle 1.2 million people a year in 1955, and will initially be able to process 20 million passengers annually before incorporating space from the former Terminal 1 for a consolidated capacity of 30 million.
Taken together with Terminal 5, the T2 opening means that 70 percent of customers will pass through buildings less than seven years old, according to owner Heathrow Airport Ltd.
More space has been laid out for orientation, with an atrium-style departure lounge and reduced reliance on stairs and elevators. Some arriving passengers will have a level 200-meter (656-foot) walk from gate to curb via baggage claim and customs.
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