Comms teams stand ground over T5 fiasco

Senior PR people at British Airways and BAA are insisting their crisis response to problems at Terminal 5 was a success.

Heathrow Terminal 5: negative coverage
Heathrow Terminal 5: negative coverage

BA press officer Anthony Cane said the ten BA PROs on the ground at Heathrow, and a further five at the airline's London press office, reacted quickly when Thursday's opening descended
into chaos.

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‘When it turned, we had the right people in place to respond, who knew the answers instinctively,' said Cane. He added that BA was ‘working on a marketing and PR campaign to win back our customers' trust'.

BAA deputy group comms director Malcolm Robertson also praised his press team's reaction to Thursday's crisis, calling their res­ponse ‘good and fully res­ourced'. Robertson was one of app­roximately ten BAA media handlers on the ground at T5 on its opening day.

He and PR representatives from other BAA airports worked alongside Heathrow's press office and BA's comms team, with strategic support from BAA's retained agency, Finsbury.

Robertson stood by his decision to pull BAA general manager Mark Bullock from the BBC evening news, a move that has been criticised by the media.

‘I took the decision to withdraw Mark from the int­erview, and it wasn't one I took lightly,' said Robertson. ‘When events unfold quickly, you are walking a thin line.'

3am the time BAA’s first press officer arrived to prepare for the big day
25 the approximate number of BA and BAA press officers working on the opening day
2 the number of triumphant speeches Willie Walsh had made by mid-morning
1 the number of lifts that were working, out of 18
20,000 the number of bags left behind
1,292 pieces of coverage generated, according to Google News

Michael Burrell, vice chair, Edelman Europe

‘I was at Terminal 5 on opening day, on my way to Brussels. It was a shambles, no question. I do feel sorry for the staff. It is understandable that day one in a new building can be tough, and BA can be proud of how their staff handled an incredibly difficult situation.

The hardest part to understand is the failure of equipment. In PR terms, BA and BAA went a bit overboard telling us what a dream it would be. When it turned into a nightmare it was that much worse. It was a mistake to hype it up, and a mistake for Willie Walsh to appear at the start of the day singing its praises, only to vanish. He did eventually recover with an apology. It is a great shame, and I expect the blame will be divided.

Both BA and BAA have made some mistakes, and it will be very damaging for both. It is bound to strengthen the voice of the lobby against BAA's monopoly of airports in the South East. It will cause damage to the case for a new runway at Heathrow. I am off to Rome this week, and hope it goes more smoothly.'

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