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Turbulence reigns at airline terminal

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Body language suggests a woman sitting beside passenger helpers at Terminal 5 won't be boarding a plane anytime soon at Heathrow's new terminal, which has been beset with problems.

Body language suggests a woman sitting beside passenger helpers at Terminal 5 won’t be boarding a plane anytime soon at Heathrow’s new terminal, which has been beset with problems.

Matt Dunham, Associated Press

LONDON — The weekend forecast for Heathrow Airport's Terminal 5: choppy, unsettled and likely delays.

The opening of the new, $8.6 billion terminal has become a full-scale public relations disaster for British Airways during a second day of long lines, lost luggage and even scuffles between angry, exhausted passengers.

British Airways officials said 36 of 208 round-trip short-haul flights were canceled Friday and that a smaller number of cancellations was expected over the weekend.

Airline officials are trying to work out several kinks, including in the much-lauded baggage collection system, which broke down within hours of the terminal's opening Thursday morning, triggering a slew of cancellations.

Air travelers have been advised to check the British Airways Web site before leaving home, and passengers booked on flights due to leave from, arrive to or pass through Terminal 5 between now until 10 a.m. Monday (Greenwich Mean Time) can rebook their flights without charge.

British Airways Chief Executive Willie Walsh took responsibility for problems but said he would not resign.

"I'm not going anywhere," Walsh said. "I'm determined to make this work."

Walsh said more disruptions are expected today but that the situation will improve each day.

He did not provide specifics of the system breakdowns that bedeviled travelers Thursday and Friday but said a string of problems — including parking difficulties and computer malfunctions — combined to overstress the system despite months of preparation.

"Some of the problems we anticipated, and some of the problems I don't believe we could have anticipated," he said. "We clearly made mistakes."

The fouled inauguration of the terminal provoked a flood of anger from leading British politicians, who said the meltdown at Terminal 5 has tarnished the reputation of the entire country.

Conservative Party leader David Cameron said the events cast doubt on plans for future expansion of Heathrow.

"The scenes yesterday were completely dreadful," he said. "You feel for anyone there. It was humiliating to see that happening."

David Frost, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said the breakdown sent "a depressing message" that would sully Britain's business reputation throughout the world.

"This is a public relations disaster at a time when London and the UK are positioning themselves as global players," he said. "We can only hope that this will provide a wake-up call as we gear ourselves up to host the Olympics in 2012."

British Airways' stock price, meanwhile, sank 2.93 percent Friday to close at 240 pence ($4.80).

Airline officials and airport operator BAA PLC had hoped for a bonanza of positive publicity with the opening of the new terminal, with its cutting edge design, high quality materials, and upscale shopping and dining. Instead they have been buffeted by images of suffering travelers.

"It is diabolical," said Tony Pascoe, 35, who had hoped to accompany his mother to Vienna on her first-ever flight Friday. They could not get on their plane. "I am a frequent traveler, and this is the worst experience ever."

Incoming passengers were affected as well, with many waiting up to two hours for their luggage.

Anne Cecilie Kjelling, on a two-day business trip, said she was angry that British Airways officials provided no information about the baggage delay and no seats for the stranded.

"They had no idea where anything was," said Kjelling, who had arrived on a flight from Oslo, Norway. "They did bring us some water after we had been waiting for an hour."

Said Sarah Lowdon, whose flight was canceled Thursday afternoon, "I'm not a happy bunny."