Worth It? Heathrow Coughs Up for Smooth Olympics
Five years of planning. 150 rehearsals this year alone. Fifty staffers dedicated to nothing but preparations for the Olympic Games.
These measures aren’t cheap, but Heathrow Airport is hoping the long-term benefits of being the official host airport for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games outweigh the near-term costs.
Certainly, endless queues and under-staffing have been a concern since reports of hours-long waits at immigration checkpoints began to surface this spring. Heathrow and Britain’s home office have been working since then to keep the lines moving; an added challenge is the threat of strikes by border control workers dissatisfied with their pay and working conditions, which could happen before or during the Games.
Still, Colin Matthews, chief executive of Heathrow’s parent company, BAA, is confident enough to say “so far, so good.”
In an interview with CNBC, Mr. Matthews acknowledged that the rehearsals, security, extra staffing and special measures needed to deal with the influx of passengers and baggage for the Olympics will hit Heathrow’s bottom line. “I think in total, [staging the Games] is going to cost us,” he said. “On the other hand, if we have a great games and this country, and if the experience at Heathrow is good, then our reputation I think will benefit from that.”
The make-or-break day for Heathrow may be August 13, which the airport expects to be its busiest as athletes and visitors depart en masse from the Games. The airport is even going so far as to open facilities at the Olympic Village that will allow athletes and related staff to check baggage and even check in to flights so as to help alleviate crowding at the airport itself.
Mr. Matthews called that move one of the company’s “key investments” to make sure the day goes smoothly — and the impression left from Heathrow’s handling of the Games overall is a good one.
Of course, half the battle for passengers may be getting to and from the airport in the first place. “The whole of the London transport system has additional stress on it, so I won’t say I’m relaxed,” said Mr. Matthew. “We’re absolutely keyed up on the front of our seats to make sure the experience is a good one.”
-BY CNBC's Kelly Evans