If only the designers of Heathrow T2 had taken a look at Tampa

Last week I was one of around 3000 people who spent a day helping  to test the systems at Heathrow’s new Terminal 2. It was an interesting day and as someone who generally likes airports I had a good time even if I did not get to go anywhere. It is all nice and new, but for me the problem is that it doesn’t really seem to be much of a step forward in passenger terms. The systems may be the newest and the best available and that may help make life easier, but such improvements are subliminal to the passenger compared to their needs for moving around the airport. The following text in italics is the free text comments that I made in my feedback:

The terminal is new and shiny, but I found the journey to and from the B concourse too long; Yes, you have the three travelators, but there is still a lot of walking between points.

After the security check there was not enough space to reassemble one’s belongings and replace clothing items that had to be removed before passing through the scanner. In a live environment I would have been very concerned about the risk of inadvertent, or deliberate, removal of my items by another passenger.

Signage was generally good and better that in T5 except for in passport control where there seemed to be some ambiguity over which was the EU passport area and which was the e-passport area. I got it right, but wasn’t sure until I got to the desk.

As seems to be the case in airports around the world T2 was far too hot for my liking; to feel sweat breaking out while you are sat quietly waiting for your gate to be called is not comfortable and given the amount of exercise that is imposed in getting from one place to another in the terminal surely the temperature could be reduced?

My overall impression was that it was just another airport terminal; some are new, some are old, but they are all too hot, have uncomfortable seating with nowhere to put anything while you wait and make you walk too far. T2 fits that pattern precisely.

I don’t think that I am being harsh here because if you take away the gloss you have a bog standard airport terminal from the passenger perspective. It may be great for the people that work there; I don’t know for sure, but I would expect that it will be a treat for them to have new facilities to work in.

My experience of the technology as a test passenger was pretty good. My script for the departure experience was that I had checked in on line and so was to use the self-service machines to print my bag tag. The first machine that I tried would not load my airline, but the second machine worked perfectly and the rest of my departure and arrival experience was pretty much routine. I almost always book my tickets and check in on line these days so am familiar with the process, although th9is was the first time that I have printed my own bag tag.

I am fortunate to have flown a fair bit and the following table shows where I have been in and out of over the last 30 years. With 528 trips through airports behind me and including a variety of regional and international airports on four continents  (five if you count South America as one) I speak with a modicum of experience. The new Heathrow T2 will be an asset in terms of an infrastructure improvement and as a nation we need that investment, but in terms of passenger experience it is just more of the same. The shining example of how to get it right is Tampa and it is a joy to arrive or depart there. Maybe one day someone somewhere else will get it right, but for now I’m still waiting.

Airport Arrivals Departures
Aberdeen 3 1
Atlanta 1 1
Beijing 1 1
Belfast 10 9
Belfast City 4 5
Birmingham (UK) 2 2
Bogota 1 1
Boston 2 2
Bristol (UK) 5 5
Chicago O’Hare 6 6
Cincinnati 1 1
Edinburgh 21 20
Faro 1 1
Gatwick 10 11
Glasgow 17 19
Hamburg 2 1
Hannover 0 1
Heathrow T1 48 49
Heathrow T2 1 0
Heathrow T3 33 32
Heathrow T4 1 1
Heathrow T5 3 3
Liverpool 2 2
Los Angeles 1 0
Luton 2 2
Manchester 1 2
Miami 28 29
New York JFK 1 1
Newark 2 2
Newcastle 2 2
Orlando 11 10
Raleigh Durham 1 1
Ronaldsway 1 1
Rotterdam 1 1
San Francisco 1 2
Tampa 13 13
Tripoli 1 1
Washington Dulles 23 23

 

So far this year I have another eight passages through airports booked and I shall enjoy the outbound trips more that the returns (the Berkshire Belle will be with me on all of these trips; flying solo the return is always more of pleasure than the outbound journey because of what awaits me at home). I enjoy elements of airports; watching people, watching aeroplanes and watching how things work, or don’t, but I don’t enjoy crowds, or sweltering conditions or having to seemingly walk halfway to where I am going just to get on, or off, the ‘plane. But you take the pain with the pleasure and airports and aeroplanes have allowed me to do so much and to visit places that I dreamt of as a small boy.

PS: after writing this post something triggered a memory and sure enough I had written here on similar lines a few years ago here is the link to that piece.

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