Heathrow Terminal 5 opens but key stakeholders are stuck in traffic

By Geoff Reiss
On the 27th March 2008 the UK witnessed one of the saddest examples of poor stakeholder management in years.
Heathrow terminal 5 baggage piled up as handlers stuck in traffic

On that day, surrounded by the great and the good of British politics and the world’s media, Her Majesty the Queen opened the sparkling new, and very impressive £4.3bn terminal building.

Most new airport buildings begin active life with a few flights and slowly build up day by day to full operation. In this case it had been decided that Terminal Five would ‘hit the ground running’ with a busy schedule of flights on day one. This may have been something they went on to regret.

Passengers started arriving, checking-in and watching their baggage disappear along the conveyor belts into the automated baggage handling system.

All seemed to be going swimmingly. Actually it was beginning to drown.

One important group of Stakeholders had felt aggrieved for some time. It is easy to convert an otherwise supportive group of people into annoyed dissenters simply by not talking to them and, more importantly, not listening to them.

This particular group was responsible for lifting the baggage from the output side of the baggage handling system onto the trailers that would carry the bags off to the waiting aeroplanes. A part of the operation invisible to the media and passengers within the terminal building.

When the baggage handlers had turned up to work at the new terminal they found that the hordes of media and others had filled the carpark. Being already demotivated they simply sat in their cars queuing for spaces. There were none.

Meanwhile more and more passengers checked in more and more bags.

Eventually the automated system did exactly what it was supposed to do and called a halt. As no bags were leaving the system, the storage space filled and no more bags could be accepted. Check-in stopped. Passengers continues to arrive and the check-in queues quickly grew.

Outside planes sat waiting for baggage and passengers.

One thing the TV news channels really like is film of a disaster and here were queuing people complaining like mad. No one knew what was going on. It made headlines. Chaos reigned

It took ages for the baggage handlers to be located, separated from their cars, set to work and the backlog to be cleared. Some flights were delayed and quite a few others were cancelled altogether. Some took off with passengers but without their luggage.

Had these baggage handlers been treated as an important group of stakeholders, they might have been more motivated. They would have at least reported the problem and possibly even have solved it themselves. They didn’t. They just sat in their cars and waited.

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