The chaotic scenes witnessed at the opening of Terminal 5 this week are directly attributable to the privatisation of both the British Airports Authority (BAA) and British Airways.
Across the political spectrum there is widespread agreement that BAA run airports, with their long queues, lack of seats and tacky, shopping mall atmosphere, are a national disgrace.
But the solution is not to break up BAA's monopoly and introduce 'more competition' as some have suggested. The answer is to take BAA back into public ownership, and for the company to be run as a not-for-profit enterprise.
Britain is the only country in Europe that has been foolish enough to privatise its major international airports. It is no coincidence that Manchester Airport, which has not been privatised, and which regularly comes out highest in surveys of customer satisfaction, was voted Britain’s Best Regional Airport in 2007.
We can't blame BAA for treating every square foot at Heathrow as a profit centre: it's owned by a public limited company which wants to maximise returns for its shareholders. But we can blame the politicians foolish enough to sell off BAA in the first place. Allowing other profit-hungry plcs to compete to run our airports would only mean more of the same.
British Airways’ whole ethos has changed since it was privatised.
The company has tried to cut corners wherever possible in order to reduce costs and boosts profits. BA has simply laid off too many staff-that’s why most of its check in desks are always closed, as was the case at Terminal 5 again this week. And staff training has been cut back too. It was reported that some staff for instance only received four day’s training on how to handle the new baggage handling system at Terminal 5.
Much of the chaos we saw at Terminal 5 this week was due to BAA and BA putting cost-cutting measures above serving the public.
As Will Hutton, economics editor of the Observer has noted:
Terminal 5's problems are more than teething troubles; they are symptomatic of deeper weaknesses in our private sector which, until we recast the way we do business, will continue to plague us.
It’s time to restore both BAA and BA to public ownership.