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Passengers praise Heathrow's new T2

Passengers have praised Heathrow's new Terminal 2 after the decision to open the £2.5 billion facility in stages appeared to be paying off.

Travellers pouring off the first flight to touch down at T2 - a United Airlines' Boeing 767 service from Chicago - said they were impressed with the new building which has a light, airy feel.

And those departing, heading for a selection of US destinations, also gave the thumbs up to the new facility where management deliberately decided to have a "soft" opening today to avoid any repeat of the disastrous opening day of Heathrow's Terminal 5 in March 2008.

Managers opted for a phased opening of T2, with just 34 flights operating today compared with the eventual 330 a day when all T2's 26 airlines eventually move in by October.

After greeting the 178 passengers and 11 crew on the first flight from Chicago, Heathrow's development director John Holland-Kaye professed his delight with the opening.

He said: "It's gone as well as we could have hoped for. I could not be more pleased. Our months of planning and testing have paid off and I want to thank the many thousands of people who have made this opening possible."

But there were some bits of bad news. Through no fault of T2, a United plane from Chicago due to arrive at 8.35am was delayed for nearly three hours.

Also, Heathrow arriving and departing passengers were having to contend with a strike by RMT transport union members on the Heathrow Express rail link.

One of the first workers at the new terminal today was flower-stall operator Mariana Irigui, 40, from Ealing, west London.

She said: "The new terminal is beautiful. It's bright and airy."

One of the first passengers off the first flight from Chicago was physician Alan Yong, 40, from Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, who had been attending a conference in Chicago.

He said: "I use Heathrow a lot. This looks like a nice new facility."

Also seeing T2 for the first time, having flown in on the Chicago flight, was orthopaedic surgeon Dr Stuart Weinstein, 67, from Iowa City, Iowa.

Asked if a new terminal would be a boost to Heathrow, Dr Weinstein replied: "Gosh, yes.

"That was the quickest I've ever got through immigration at Heathrow. It's been a very smooth operation."

Steve Elmore, 47, from Chicago, who works in the pharmaceutical industry on drug research, said he had no idea that it was the first day of the new terminal until shortly after arriving at the west London airport.

He said: "We saw these guys dressed in Beefeater costumes as we got off the plane. It was a fantastic reception."

Fellow traveller Gerard Fox, 46, a businessman from Chicago, said: "It's an historic occasion."

In the departure lounge awaiting a flight to Houston in Texas, John Hastwell and his wife, Rowan, seemed impressed.

Mr Hastwell, from Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire, said: "The new terminal looks excellent. I think it's been a very good idea to open it in stages. It's not crowded and there are plenty of staff around to assist you."

Irish student Lee Conneely, 20, from Wexford, was more circumspect. "There's not a huge flow of passengers yet, so the test for the terminal will come when it gets busier after a few weeks," he said.

Flying off for a summer in San Francisco, Mr Conneely went on: "I like the new terminal. It's beautiful. It was only when I arrived that I realised this was the opening day."

Also heading for San Francisco were shop assistants Laura Brown, 21, and Emma Harris, 21, both from Ashford in Kent. Ms Brown said; "The terminal looks nice."

T2 boasts 60 check-in gates and 66 self-check-in kiosks, 29 security lanes, 33 shops, 17 restaurants, more than 7,000 seats, 634 toilets and 42 water fountains.

More than 180 trials for T2 have taken place over the last six months involving 14,000 volunteers. As many as 100,000 bags have already passed through the T2 baggage system, with peak loads tested at 4,000 bags per hour compared with an expected peak of 2,500 bags

Every person working at T2 has been required to participate in familiarisation and training sessions with more than 1,700 sessions taking place.

T2 is officially named Terminal 2 The Queen's Terminal. After today's operational opening, the Queen, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, will officially open T2 on June 23.

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