Heathrow's new terminal opens

(AP) - Heathrow Airport's gleaming Terminal 5 opened Thursday, launching operations with an early morning arrival of a flight from Hong Kong.

The $8.6 million terminal, able to handle 30 million passengers per year, will be used exclusively by British Airways, which is moving many of its flights from the run-down, congested airport's other terminals to the new building.

Airport operator BAA PLC said the gates freed up by British Airways' move to Terminal 5 will allow U.S. airlines, including Continental, Delta, Northwest Airlines and U.S. Airways, to operate between Heathrow and American cities beginning March 30. In addition, American Airlines is shifting several of its flights from London Gatwick to Heathrow, officials said.

Not every passenger was thrilled with the new facility, however.

"It took an hour from the time we landed for our bags to come through," said Mike Salinger, who arrived from Hong Kong on the second flight into Terminal 5.

A coalition of environmental protesters opposed to the further expansion of the sprawling airport plans a silent demonstration inside the terminal building to draw attention to its impact on climate change and noise pollution. They say they are determined to halt plans for a third runway at Heathrow.

John Stewart, spokesman for Stop Heathrow Expansion, said the group does not plan to disrupt the terminal operations or to hold a rally, which is not allowed at Heathrow. Instead, he said, several hundred protesters planned to don red T-shirts that say "Stop airport expansion" and stand motionless inside the terminal.

"About 800 people have asked for the T-shirts," he said. "We're doing it to make the point that Terminal 5 can be used to bring in up to 100,000 more planes a year even with the existing runways. That's huge."

Officials at BAA had planned to begin fingerprinting domestic passengers and international passengers who transfer to domestic flights when Terminal 5 opens, but those plans were "temporarily delayed" Wednesday after an independent watchdog agency complained.

The Information Commissioner's Office had warned that the fingerprinting would infringe on the privacy rights of passengers.

Instead, photo identification will be used as part of the security process.

BAA has earmarked $12.4 billion for a series of improvements to the other terminals during the next decade to make the airport more attractive to international travelers.

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