“For security reasons, luggage left unattended will be removed and destroyed,” echoes the announcement in Terminal 2 at Heathrow. But they forget to add: “and checked luggage on your flight can be left in a pile, somewhere, unattended.”
What is shaping up to be the worst week for the disruption of rail strikes in decades has started with a different form of travel chaos, as Heathrow this morning cut dozens of flights over “technical issues” with baggage systems.
Over the weekend, passengers disembarking in the UK faced three-hour waits to collect their bags. Some described a “baggage mat” with photographs showing stacks of unaccompanied baggage piled up outside the terminal. Baggage handling issues continue to affect passengers this week.
“There were suitcases piled up on a trolley load and a lot of unattended suitcases lying around,” says Ragya, who I speak with in the baggage reclaim area of Terminal 2 at Heathrow. She flew in from Dublin yesterday and is due to fly to Saudi Arabia at 5:30 pm this afternoon. But her bag disappeared on arrival yesterday, so she now only has a matter of hours to find her bag.
“Check-in just opened. The airport has been more helpful than the airline itself,” she said. “Unfortunately, it has been very difficult to reach them.”
Outside the terminal I see handlers loading a pile of bags onto a DHL van – this is the last bunch of bags photographed yesterday, which will now be sorted and distributed to passengers who left the airport empty handed yesterday. When the high-visibility men return to the airport, they do so at a casual pace, suggesting that the worst of the chaos is at an end.
“It was quick, no problem,” a newcomer from Toronto tells me, pushing a suitcase through the arrivals hall, “but I think there are some bags from yesterday lying around. Nobody seems to know what to make of them.”
Some bags also failed to reach Heathrow departing flights. Roopa Ramaiya flew yesterday from Heathrow to Lisbon with Portuguese flag carrier TAP Air, but her luggage did not get on the flight, she told the Telegraph.
“Almost no bags made it through. I waited hours at Lisbon airport to see if the next flight would arrive,” she said. “I was flying in to start my first week at a new job and had to spend over £500 on work clothes and essentials.”
Roopa says he’s made a report and is using a tracking system, but still says his bag is “being tracked”.
Baggage disruption has reached the departure lounge, with Heathrow today advising airlines to cut ten percent of flights to alleviate the backlog of bags being manually processed at the airport. British Airways, Virgin and Flybe are among the airlines that have canceled services at the request of Heathrow.
When I arrived at Terminal 2 departures this morning, there was a line leading to airline information desks. A German woman and her mother told me they should fly with Eurowings, but the 2:50 pm flight to Hamburg was cancelled. What will happen now, I ask?
“Who knows? That’s what we hope to find out,” the daughter tells me, surprisingly excited.
Responding to the weekend’s disruption, a spokesperson for Heathrow said: “We apologize unreservedly for the disruption that passengers have faced throughout this weekend.
“Technical issues affecting baggage systems have led us to take the decision to ask airlines operating in Terminals 2 and 3 to consolidate their schedules on Monday, June 20th.
“This will allow us to minimize the ongoing impact and we ask that all passengers check with their airline for the latest information.”
Today’s outage comes just days after Gatwick announced it would lower its daily capacity limits during the summer months to avoid a repeat of the chaos seen over the Jubilee Bank Holiday weekend.
In response to Gatwick’s announcement, easyJet has cut its services between now and September, in a move that could affect tens of thousands of British tourists.
More chaos may await UK airports as the week progresses. Railway strikes scheduled for Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday are expected to hit tourists hoping to travel to airports in the coming days. It is anticipated that there could be significant delays in transit as passengers are required to travel to the airport by car.