There is an old joke about the first fully automated airplane flight. As the plane takes off, a recorded voice explains to passengers how this airplane has no pilots, and that "...nothing can go wrong... nothing can go wrong...nothing can go wrong..."
The chaos at the opening day of Heathrow's $4-billion Terminal 5 reminded me of the joke. Earlier in the week, the press were given a tour. BAA (british airport authority) reps boasted how computers would run everything, from getting luggage to passengers before passengers arrived at baggage claim, to targeted ads via giant electronic boards. The computers would run everything, and nothing could go wrong.
As I read of the marketing boasts, two thoughts came to my mind:
-- the initial baggage disaster when Denver airport first opened.
-- that this building was designed five years ago, and things have changed a lot since then.
Complex systems create complex problems.
This Is London has photos and description of all that went wrong, starting with the two-hour lineup of employees trying to get into work but (1) having insufficient parking; and (2) being frustrated with the new computerized work check-in system.
This is why I always avoid Heathrow when travelling to Europe. Not that established airports are any better. Take the train from Amsterdam to the airport. Upon arriving, you enter a huge hall with zero signs directing you to your departure gate.
And sometimes things go right. I once had ten minutes between flights in Denver. I raced through the airport, got on board, and was resigned to my luggage not making it. As I looked out my window, I saw a baggage cart pull up with my suitcase on it.