How bad is the chaos at Heathrow? I visited to find out

·4-min read
heathrow airport luggage baggage airport travel chaos - Jamie Lorriman for The Telegraph
heathrow airport luggage baggage airport travel chaos - Jamie Lorriman for The Telegraph

“For security reasons, baggage left unattended will be removed and destroyed,” echoes the announcement in Heathrow Terminal 2. But they forget to add, “and baggage checked into your flight might be left in a pile, somewhere, unattended.”

What is gearing up to be the worst week for rail strike disruption in decades has kicked off with a different form of travel chaos, as Heathrow this morning slashed dozens of flights as “technical issues” blight baggage systems.

Over the weekend, passengers landing in the UK faced three-hour waits to collect their luggage. Some described a “luggage carpet” with photographs showing piles of unattended baggage stacked outside the terminal. The baggage handling problems continue to affect passengers into this week.

travel chaos heathrow baggage - PA Wire
travel chaos heathrow baggage - PA Wire

“There were bags stacked up on a load of trollies, and a lot of bags on their own just lying around,” says Ragya, who I speak to at the baggage reclaim corner of Heathrow Terminal 2. She flew in from Dublin yesterday and is due to fly to Saudi Arabia at 5.30pm this afternoon. But her bag went missing on arrival yesterday, so she now only has a matter of hours to find her bag.

“Check-in has just opened. The airport has been more helpful than the airline itself,” she said. “Unfortunately it’s been quite difficult to reach them.”

Outside the terminal I see handlers load a pile of suitcases onto a DHL van – this is the final heap of the mountain of bags photographed yesterday, which will now be sorted and distributed to passengers who left the airport empty handed yesterday. When the men in hi-vis return to the airport they do so at a casual pace, suggesting the worst of the chaos is nearing an end.

“It was fast, no problems,” one arrival from Toronto tells me, pushing a trolley of bags through the arrivals hall, “but there are some bags I think from yesterday lying around. Nobody seems to know what to do with them.”

Some bags have failed to make it onto outbound flights departing from Heathrow, too. Roopa Ramaiya flew from Heathrow to Lisbon with Portuguese flag carrier TAP Air yesterday, but her luggage did not make it into the flight, she tells the Telegraph.

travel heathrow chaos luggage
travel heathrow chaos luggage

“Hardly any bags made it through. I waited at the airport for hours in Lisbon to see if it would arrive on the following flight,” she said. “I was flying to start my first week at a new job and had to spend more than £500 for work clothing and essentials.”

Roopa says that she has filed a report and is using a tracing system, but it still says her bag is “being traced”.

The baggage disruption has trickled into the departures hall, with Heathrow today advising airlines to cut ten per cent of flights to ease the backlog of bags being manually processed in the airport. British Airways, Virgin and Flybe are among the airlines to cancel services on Heathrow’s request.

When I arrived at Terminal 2 departures this morning there was a queue leading to the airline information desks. A German woman and her mother tell me that they were due to be flying with Eurowings, but their 2.50pm flight to Hamburg was cancelled. What will happen now, I ask?

“Who knows? That’s what we’re hoping to find out,” the daughter tells me, surprisingly chipper.

Responding to the weekend’s disruption, a Heathrow spokesperson said: “We apologise unreservedly for the disruption passengers have faced over the course of this weekend.

“The technical issues affecting baggage systems have led to us making the decision to request airlines operating in terminals 2 and 3 to consolidate their schedules on Monday 20th June.

“This will enable us to minimise ongoing impact and we ask that all passengers check with their airlines for the latest information.”

baggage luggage heathrow travel chaos - Jamie Lorriman
baggage luggage heathrow travel chaos - Jamie Lorriman

Today’s disruption comes just days after Gatwick announced it would reduce its daily capacity limits over 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 slashed its services between now and September in a move that could affect tens of thousands of British holidaymakers.

Further chaos could await the UK airports as the week progresses. Rail strikes scheduled for Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday are set to hit holidaymakers hoping to travel to airports in the coming days. It is predicted that there could be significant traffic delays, as passengers are forced to travel to the airport by car.

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