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Carrying on

May 18, 2008|by catharine hamm | ON THE SPOT

Question: We will be flying from LAX on American Airlines and changing planes in Heathrow for a flight to Johannesburg, South Africa. Friends told me I can have only one piece of carry-on. I have called British Airways, but no one seems to be able to confirm this for me. What's the situation?

Barb Urbanski


Answer: A bit unsettled. The answer to the carry-on question is easy; it's the question you raise peripherally about BA's inability to help that may be the red flag.

Britain's Department of Transport again is allowing two pieces of carry-on for travelers in most major British airports, including London's Heathrow and Gatwick.

You may carry one bag no bigger than 22 by 17.5 by 9.85 inches and one purse or briefcase or other small bag. The bigger bag must not weigh more than 51 pounds, and you must be able to lift it into the overhead bin without help. (Presumably, that does not preclude a kind passenger from helping you.)

The more important issue here may be that BA employees couldn't help you, when, in fact, this bit of information is posted on the website. (Go to, click on "Information," scroll down and click on "hand baggage.")

BA employees have, perhaps, been a little preoccupied with the opening of Terminal 5, the new $9-billion facility at Heathrow that was to consolidate airline operations. Before its late March opening, T5 was hailed as the salve that would soothe the Heathrow traveler's every frustration.

That didn't quite work out. At least 500 flights were canceled in those first chaotic days, and mounds of luggage went astray. In fact, the opening was so bungled that even Willie Walsh, the chief executive of BA, called it a "disaster" when he appeared before Parliament. He acknowledged that employees may not have been sufficiently trained.

BA has retrenched. Its flights from L.A. are going into the new terminal, but other long-haul flights, including service from Phoenix and New York's JFK, that were to have been switched to T5 last month will not begin until June 5.

Other switch-overs will be phased in in July and September or October. "By the end of the summer, all operations should be in T5, save the very few that will operate out of T3 until Terminal 5C is completed," John Lampl, a BA spokesman, said in an e-mail.

So a word to the wise: Now that you can take two pieces of carry-on with you, make good use of them. Don't pack anything in your checked luggage that you absolutely must have, especially medications, items for personal grooming, clean underwear and any travel documents you might need later in your trip. Leave nothing to chance, which can be a cruel teacher, a lesson BA and its customers have learned -- yet again -- the hard way.


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