| Friday 28th March
2008 | Issue 626
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TERMINAL DISASTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT
Yesterday was the start of another inglorious chapter in the story of air travel as Heathrow Terminal 5 (T5) officially opened for business. After the whopping £4.3 billion quid spent on essentially a better-lit new cattle shed, it should have been a red letter day for triumphant British Airways management. But the only red on show was that of hundreds of ‘Flashmob’ protesters who – having previously milling around the check-in areas looking innocuous - simultaneously ripped off their over-garments to reveal matching red t-shirts emblazoned with the simple message, “STOP AIRPORT EXPANSION”.
They made a peaceful protest, chaperoned by plenty of police and a fair number of machine guns - and took full advantage of the presence of national corporate media there to cover all the opening day razzmatazz.
The day then went from bad to worse for BA as all the many millions they have spent on preparation and full public dummy run trials of the new set up proved largely wasted. Staff couldn’t log on to new computer systems, baggage handlers struggled to park near planes or get through security before new ‘fasttrack’ check-in machines malfunctioned and T5 ground to a complete halt. Tens of planes had to be cancelled, costing BA a fair few quid no doubt, and thousands of passengers got the kind of airport experience that might lead them to give up all air travel for good. Or, failing that, the misery that they deserve.
Either way, it was another shambolic big project implementation by corporate Britain – not that we’re complaining. (Why oh why can’t our corporate overlords do everything with ruthless efficiency and eliminate all those stupid mistakes... not!)
But beyond a few headlines and some disgruntled customers, it was all just a temporary blip and they will no doubt sort out the teething troubles. After all it’s only a question of money - and BA accumulates plenty of that. They made over a half billion pound profit in just six months last year, even despite a £270 million fine dished out for their part in colluding with ‘competitors’ over passenger fuel surcharges.
And mentioning competitors in inverted commas is particularly relevant to T5. The new terminal opening is seeing the biggest ever UK reshuffle of airline kit and personnel. The airport is being organised to reflect the way the US-EU so called ‘Open Skies’ Agreement is panning out. In fact, that deal, spun under the inevitable ‘Free Trade’ tag, is a great demonstration of the tendency of unregulated markets to contract into cartels and monopolies.
Over recent years, major airlines have been flirting rather than fighting, and all the big players have signed up with each other to form three main ‘strategic alliances’ with their erstwhile competitors. Sharing resources, they sell each other’s tickets, advertise seamless coverage of more routes and reap the additional profits to be had. Working together gives them more global reach and the power of collective muscle flexing when it comes to keeping the airport operators, politicians and regulators acting in their favour.
And now they are gradually realising those alliances in physical space at airports around the world. It’ll all help in their plans to continue massive growth of air travel - and leave them better placed to lobby against all those annoying climate change doomsayers.
Which they appear to be doing extremely well – T5 is estimated to be enabling up to 80,000 new flights, even before the planned new third runway the government seems so keen on is built - to be followed by T6 and T7 we presume...
* For more see www.planestupid.com and www.notrag.org
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