UK ‘happy’ to use naked scanners

Most people would choose to avoid taking their clothes off in public, given the chance, so when the Labour government forced the installation of full-body or ‘naked’ scanners at UK airports, some travellers began to fear for their modesty.

Five months later, as the machines become commonplace at regional airports, holidaymakers have begun to accept the scanners as a necessity, with 90% of Brits declaring themselves content with current security measures. The use of biometric data, such as iris scans and fingerprints, has also been well received.

The figures, which were collected by software firm, Unisys, led organisers to conclude that privacy was a secondary concern for people travelling by plane. Critics might think that response unusual, however, considering the amount of anger and confusion that has plagued full-body scanners since their introduction in October 2009.

In February, for example, two women forfeited a flight to Pakistan after refusing to undergo a full-body scan. The women were due to fly out of Manchester Airport, unaware that they were about to become the first people to decline the infamous machines. The problem escalated at Heathrow Airport last month, but for an entirely different reason.

Security guard, John Laker, used the scanner to take a photo of a colleague’s naked body, marking the first time that the machine has been used to a nefarious end. With two ‘firsts’ in as many months, travellers could be forgiven for thinking that the scanner’s newfound popularity is skin-deep, at best.

According to Unisys, the British Airports Authority is equally optimistic about the scanner’s future. Neil Fisher, boss at Unisys, believes that more work needs to be done to prevent terrorism, however – ‘what we have done so far is react to threats as they occur, rather than looking at the complete picture.’

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Heathrow first to get paperless boarding

Heathrow has become the first airport in the UK to start using Continental Airlines’ paperless boarding pass system. The American airline has been using the system in the United States for some time, but until now it has not taken off in the UK.

Now customers flying from Heathrow to the US on Continental Airlines will be able to show their boarding pass on their mobile phones. It consists of a bar code, flight information and passenger information, and there is no way that it can be duplicated.

Continental Airlines has the system in place at 42 airports throughout the US, but due to technology and security issues it has yet to become a common feature of air travel around the world. However, it is thought that in the future it could become the main method of boarding identification.

On top of acting as the boarding pass, the new phone passes also provide passengers with further information. They allow passengers to track the status of their flight and look up the amenities on board the aircraft.

Continental Airlines currently runs five flights per day to Heathrow, and this is set to go up to seven per day later in the year. As the paperless boarding system becomes a common feature for passengers travelling to and from the US, it could well start to catch on with other airlines.

Martin Hand from Continental Airlines said that “customers have told us this is the type of product improvement they want,” adding that the airline will “continue to expand the self-service technology” to more destinations.


Heathrow unveils ‘strip-search’ scanner

Gordon Brown is to force the installation of full-body scanners at London Heathrow Airport, despite claims that the machines would not have been able to detect the substance carried by the Christmas Day bomber, who had sewn explosives into his underpants.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the man who tried to blow up a transatlantic fight on December 25th 2009, is one of a number of aeroplane bombers who have precipitated an increase in security measures over the past few years.

The United States is now dangerously close to using passenger profiling to catch extremists, a screening process that is particularly harsh on people from Cuba, Iran, Syria and eleven other countries, so selected for their alleged sponsorship of Islamic ‘terror.’

Despite looking a whole lot like selective racism, US officials claim that profiling has become an unavoidable aspect of the modern world. A host of other countries, including Germany, France, Pakistan and Holland, have also upgraded security at major airports.

In the UK, the use of full-body scanners has been cleared by the government, and installation is expected to begin within the next three weeks. Costing £80,000 each, the machines will allow security teams to peek under passenger’s clothes without having to resort to the fabled strip-search.

Critics are terrified – not only are the machines incapable of catching certain kinds of explosive, but the images produced by full-body scanners contravene UK child pornography laws. They are called ‘naked scanners’ for a good reason.

The government is drafting a code of conduct for the scanners, which should stop inappropriate images being leaked out of UK airports, and into the vast gulf of the internet.

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1,700 British Airways jobs axed at Heathrow

British Airways has announced that it will cut 1,700 jobs in the latest round of cuts to hit the beleaguered airline company.

In addition to this, it will also introduce a two-year pay freeze for its cabin crew and will make alterations to the terms and conditions that it offers its new recruits.

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Heathrow sees third-busiest month

Signs that the effects of the recession on the aviation industry are receding were revealed recently by BAA, which announced that Heathrow Airport just experienced its busiest month since July 2006 and its third busiest month on record. This was good news for the troubled BAA, which currently has a net debt of £11.3 billion and has been suffering from falling passenger numbers across the country over recent months.

Heathrow saw nearly 6.5 million passengers use its services in July, a 0.9% increase on the same month in 2008. However, other BAA airports were not so successful, with Gatwick, Stansted and Glasgow posting drops of 4.8%, 5.7% and 12.9% respectively. Edinburgh bucked the trend with a massive 5.6% year-on-year increase, but apart from this it was all bad news.

Overall, the total passenger numbers at all BAA’s airports were down 2.4% year-on-year from 14.8 million to 14.5 million. Long-haul flights were actually up by 4.8% for all BAA airports, not including the North Atlantic routes, but domestic routes were down 4.8%.

However, Heathrow’s figures suggest that the airport is still a hugely significant asset for the company. Heathrow actually had fewer flights throughout July, but the increased passenger numbers meant that the airport saw its highest ever passengers-per-plane ratio of 162.

It looks like a last minute dash for the sun has been mainly responsible for the success of Heathrow Airport over the last month. Despite the recession and predictions that most people would be holidaying closer to home this year, some particularly bad weather has seen many people decide that they would like to holiday abroad after all.


New identity for Heathrow Airport

BAA may be losing its monopoly on the UK’s airports after it was forced by the Competition Commission to sell off a few of them, but it has now decided to give Heathrow Airport, by far its largest asset, a facelift.

After the initial problems with Terminal 5 and the recent controversy over the new runway, it has been decided that the airport needs to present a different image to the world. BAA has therefore decided that it will be re-branded simply as ‘Heathrow’, with the tag-line ‘Making every journey better’.

The main ways in which the re-branding will take effect will be through posters at the airport itself, and these will be coupled with adverts on screens on the London Underground as well as advertorials in a number of publications.

The main focus will be the number of flights and destinations that Heathrow has to offer, and it will try to highlight the fact that all the recent improvements have made it the best airport in Europe, as well as highlighting its shopping facilities and restaurants.

The re-branding work will be carried out by the firm Masius, as well as being overseen by BAA Marketing and Insight, led by Nick Adderley. He has said that the changes are “about creating real understanding amongst our audiences as to why they should fly through our airport”.

So is Heathrow about to put all its problems behind it as it redefines itself in a new era? Or would it simply have more success if it didn’t get such a bad reputation for mishandling passengers’ luggage? We’ll just have to wait and see.


Snow grounds planes at Heathrow

After the arguments surrounding the confirmation that a controversial third runway is to get the go ahead at Heathrow, Britain’s largest airport found itself facing very different difficulties last week when the heaviest snow for many years saw it come to a virtual standstill.

Heathrow seemed to fare far worse than many of the other airports, with The Telegraph reporting that nearly 800 flights were cancelled due to the bad weather, with countless more suffering terrible delays. For a time, the 11 cm of snow that fell at the airport caused both of its runways to be closed, causing absolute havoc.

The main flights to suffer were the short-haul flights, with the long-haul flights taking priority. Many of the flights were simply diverted to other airports across the country, which will have caused a lot of upset and hassle for many passengers.

The bad weather led to one potentially serious event when a Cyprus Air plane skidded off the runway and lodged its front wheel into the grass at the side.

According to the BBC, this was the last flight to land before the runways were closed, and when it comes to such serious incidents then the authorities really would not have had a choice.

But the question remains as to how such a relatively minor amount of snow, when compared to other countries at least, can lead to such chaos. However, the truth is that the rarity of such weather means that it simply does not make sense for Britain to invest in the snow-clearing facilities that other countries, which experience such conditions every year, make use of.


Accusations over T5 advertising campaign

The travelling public will have to make their own minds up – have BA (British Airways) been caught trying to dupe passengers with their advertising campaign, or was it an honest human error?

Earlier this month, The Sunday Times brought to light an inaccuracy in the BA Terminal 5 advertising campaign which claimed on its website that 90% of its flights “were taking off within fifteen minutes of its scheduled time”.

“Not so”, said critics, pointing out that BA were actually talking about the time planes left the terminal (a Civil Aviation Authority convention) and not when they actually took off.

Given the high incidence of delays at Heathrow as planes taxi for up to half an hour waiting for a slot, the wording of the advert was misleading at best. BA blame a human error on the part of their marketing staff and advertising agency, Bartle Bogle Hegarty.

BA are spending £6 million in an attempt to persuade the public that T5 is now working well, despite its rocky start this March when chaos reigned, with flights cancelled, baggage lost and passengers enduring a thoroughly miserable experience.

After the Sunday Times made its revelation, the wording was quickly changed to: “Yesterday at T5 90% of flights left on time”. The website aims to provide passengers with up-to-date statistics on delays and arrivals and also average check-in times.

Rivals Virgin Atlantic were quick to step into the fray, saying that BA avoid the evening peak period when calculating the average check-in time. They are expected to complain to the Advertising Standards Authority.

Take a look at British Airway’s presence at T5 at Heathrow via their website. Alternatively, see our Guide on T5 at Heathrow Airport to get to know your terminal.


Heathrow is the busiest international airport

You must have been living down a hole if you weren’t aware of some of the nightmares Heathrow airport has been having over the past year or so. It might come as a surprise then to hear that the west London mini-city is the world’s busiest international airport. The World Traffic Report by the Airports Council International (ACI) has revealed that Heathrow is the overall winner in terms of passengers coming through its doors and has clocked up a staggering 62 million passengers in 2007.

Europe is certainly where the most people fly. From the top five airports on the list, four were in Europe and the other was Hong Kong, which came in fifth but with a pretty impressive 46 million passengers a year.

After Heathrow came Paris Charles de Gaulle, then came Amsterdam and then Frankfurt. But these international airport figures differ from those that include domestic flights. If this were taken into account too, then Heathrow would come second to Chicago O’Hare, which clocked up 76 million passengers in 2007, that is more than the entire population of the UK.

To cope with the demands of 62 million people Heathrow has its 5th terminal and we all know about that. There have been plans for a third runway too but there is speculation over this as a £30 billion train link from the north to the south of Britain might take precedence.