Stress levels at Heathrow Terminal 5 are set to reduce… but some British Airways passengers will be waiting significantly longer for connections.
The airline is to increase the minimum connection time (MCT) at Heathrow from an hour to 75 minutes, to reduce the risk – and commercial cost – of missed onward flights.
By lengthening connections, the airline hopes fewer passengers will end up being stranded or rebooked.
However, it will mean longer journey times for passengers connecting at the hub, putting the flag carrier at a commercial disadvantage compared to European rivals. For example, it is now three times longer than the MCT at Vienna airport for passengers connecting between Star Alliance flights.
Passengers from Nice heading for Los Angeles can no longer arrive in California at lunchtime by transiting through London. Up to 8 January, travellers on the first flight from the south of France had 65 minutes to connect with the British Airways departure at 10.10am, giving an arrival time of 1.25pm. While a lunchtime arrival is still feasible on KLM via Amsterdam, Lufthansa via Frankfurt or Air France via Paris, the first “legal” connection on BA reaches Los Angeles at 4.10pm.
From Berlin, a passenger hoping to connect on the British Airways afternoon flight to Miami will need to leave the German capital 70 minutes earlier than previously.
A spokesperson for British Airways said: “Following customer feedback, we’re increasing the minimum connection time for some of our flights through Heathrow T5.
“This will give customers more time to make their next flight and reduce the risk of missing their onward service, which we know is incredibly frustrating.”
Connections between Terminals 3 and 5 – which require a bus connection taking around 10 minutes – retain the existing 90-minute minimum.
British Airways says passengers who made bookings before the change and have connections shorter than 75 minutes have been contacted and offered alternative connections.
Terminal 5 opened almost 16 years ago as the solution to British Airways’ big structural problem: most intercontinental flights used Terminal 4, while Terminal 1 served domestic and most European flights. Connections between the two were fraught.
The £2.5bn new structure at the west of the airfield was the solution. After some industrial-scale teething problems, Terminal 5 is now working well for British Airways and its sister airline, Iberia.
The change was first picked up by the frequent-flyer website Head for Points – whose editor, Rob Burgess, said: “British Airways has been very public about its desire to reduce aircraft delays at Heathrow, and ensuring transit passengers don’t get stuck in Flight Connections is a help.
“It would make more sense to tackle the root of the problem at Heathrow, however, rather than simply enforce longer connecting times. When Zurich can guarantee a connection in 40 minutes and Frankfurt in 45 minutes, BA is simply making itself less attractive to transit passengers.”
The minimum connecting times for international-to-international flights at European competitors for British Airways – and Heathrow – are now significantly shorter:
- Amsterdam: 50 minutes
- Frankfurt: 45 minutes
- Paris CDG: 60 minutes
- Vienna: 25 minutes
- Zurich: 40 minutes
British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and other carriers with connecting traffic at Heathrow face another threat to their transit business: the UK’s Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA).
The new permit is currently obligatory for Qatari travellers, with Gulf and Jordanian nationals requuring the permit by next month.
The government says that by the end of the year, an ETA will be required by every “non-visa national” flying to the UK, even if they merely wish to spend two hours between flights.
At other major aviation hubs outside the US, passengers transferring from one international flight to another need only documentation valid for their final destination.
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