Textual’s Take On Terminal Five

28 03 2008

Obviously the major news this side of the pond (you’ve probably heard about it on the other side too, given it’s the world’s busiest airport) surrounds Heathrow’s Terminal 5 which opened yesterday amid total chaos.

Much has been made of this, in particular how yet another British innovation has opened to problems. The Millenium Bridge, the London Eye and now Terminal 5. What links them all? They’re British. Clearly this is conclusive evidence that the British are horrible failures and we can’t build impressive things. That seems to be the implication anyway.

Nevermind that the Millenium Bridge is now perfectly fine and one of the most unique and amazing spectacles in the world, a credit to the world’s greatest skyline, London (yes, sorry, we trump New York, Sydney, Paris or anywhere else), or that the London Eye is the thing that makes our skyline the best, the contrast between the old and the new.

Let’s forget that arguably the greatest engineer to ever live was British. Or that the Viaduc de Millau Bridge, the world’s tallest suspension bridge, was designed by a British architect. Yet no, clearly we suck at these things. Worse yet, most of these criticisms about British engineering feats or design come from British people!

Rather than see the connection between all these projects as being the British element, why not focus more on the fact that they’re all British innovations? Wembley Stadium was not a mess because it was British, if it had been there’d be no explanation for how Arsenal were able to build their stadium in far less time and within budget.

Quite frankly the reaction has been too much. To term it a “disaster” is hyperbole, this is simply teething problems and contrary to what some may think, this is what happens when you open a new terminal. People have compared this to Kuala Lumpur, Singapore or China. None of those hubs cover anywhere near as much traffic in a day as Heathrow, in fact the only airport that does is Charles de Gaulle. When they opened a new terminal the roof collapsed and four people died so let’s get a little perspective.

Any comparison to Singapore or Chinese airports is bound to fail. You might as well compare the London Eye to the Ferris Wheel at a traveling funfair, or a little dinghy to building the QE2, or a paper plane to Concorde. I don’t care if the Chinese have just opened a terminal bigger than T5, I’d be amazed if it had anywhere near as much traffic through it on opening as T5 did. By the time it takes on the traffic for the Olympics (presumably why it was built) it will have had time to iron out any issues.

Heathrow is still the world’s greatest airport. Yes, I said it, if you don’t like it, deal with it. Every time I fly abroad I’m amazed at how utterly unspectacular their airports are compared to Heathrow, and every time I come back I think “Why doesn’t the world do things like this?” Some have said it’s like a shopping mall with an airport tacked on. This is a good thing! People choose to spend time in shopping malls, so making an airport more like one makes the horrible experience that little bit more bearable.

Why is it people always overreact when these things happen?


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