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British Airways trialling virtual check-in queues at Heathrow

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British Airways has launched a new ‘virtual check-in queue’ option for selected flights at Heathrow using a technology platform from Qmatic.

You will, if you choose, no longer need to join a lengthy check-in queue. You can pre-book a time slot to check-in in advance of arriving at the airport.

The trial will run for three months on selected flights. If your flight is included, you will receive an email prior to travel inviting you to book a check-in slot.

British Airways Qmatic

The service is not compulsory, and you will still be able to join the main queue if you wish. Customers who have pre-booked slots will use dedicated desks.

This is clearly a positive move – anything which reduces queuing can’t be bad – but there are two obvious problems.

The first is that Terminal 5 Departures doesn’t have a lot of options, landside, to pass the time if you arrive early. The shopping mall is airside rather than landside.

The second issue is that, for most people, the time you arrive at Heathrow is pretty much out of your control. You are at the mercy of the Underground network, the Heathrow Express (miss your train and it’s a 15 minute wait) or the M4.

None of these options would give you much confidence to commit to a timed check-in slot.

If there were a large number of refreshment options pre check-in I would, in theory, be happy to arrive early and have a drink whilst waiting for my slot. In reality, Terminal 5 is fairly short of chairs – let alone cafes – before check-in unless you head to Arrivals.

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Comments (68)

  • Froggitt says:

    I suspect an online queuing system to get back into the country would be far more popular.

    • ChrisW says:

      Where would people wait pre-immigration for their booked spot though? It would just create more crowding in an already cramped space

  • Tony Jacobs says:

    I just booked a train ticket which was substantially cheaper via the operator than via Virgin Red. £24 v £34. No discount but I suspect a different type of ticket (advance vs anytime etc.). Do check before using the Virgin app to book!

    • Nick Burch says:

      No “via” or “avoid” options, which can normally be used to help force booking sites to show you the cheaper slower options.

      No ability to add on a PlusBus ticket for bus travel at either end, so if you need the bus you’ll be worse off

      £1 charge if you want to pick up a ticket at the station, which many operators don’t charge

      Overall, slick looking interface but ends up more expensive…

  • Nick Burch says:

    How close in can you book a slot? If you could sit down on the HEX and book your slot before it departed, that’d work pretty well.

    Otherwise, book a slot for the time you expect, take it if you are there in time, and join the main queue if you miss it. Could lead to loads of people not making their slot, and the dedicated area being inefficiently quiet though…

  • Ian Booth says:

    So I used the Virgin Red app to book my ticket today – regular cost £18.55 booking fee £1. The £1 I would not have paid at the station so for 55 miles each cost me 1.8p Probably not worth it for this level of ticket.

    • Rhys says:

      Sounds like buying through Trainline.

      • Rob says:

        There shouldn’t by any booking fees – it is a stated benefit. The dummy bookings I did yesterday had no fees.

  • planeconcorde says:

    I have a better idea. British Airways know from their reservation system how many people are booked to travel, in which classes and at what times of the day. British Airways should provide adequate staffing of their check-in counters to cope with the known demand. The solution is not to try and spread out customers across available slots. Sorry BA you have the wrong solution to the problem.

  • Steve in Croydon says:

    Book a slot to check-in!!!!! Just another bit of App-driven IT just for the sake of it. The IT mob should fix the endless, long-standing bugs in and other systems before fiddling around with nonsense like this.
    Also BA should have more, better-motivated staff at all points throughout the organisation instead of new cheap contract people. Might help if BA stopped going to war with their staff.
    BTW I’ve worked in IT for 35+ years (real IT – big IBM data centres) and none of this look pretty/don’t work Internet/App rubbish. People I knew at BA worked with BABS, which was still more reliable and had more functionality than their systems today.

  • oliver says:

    To be fair to Virgin Trains (East Coast) they had a very small share in that. It was Stagecoach but the Virgin branding was selected. I recall it was a 20:80 JV split from memory.

    • Chris Heyes says:

      Oliver Correct I had a considerable Share investment in Stagecoach a couple of years before the announcement shares proved a good investment, they sold their American investment around the same time made a killing for lucky me lol

    • Rob says:

      90:10 I think, West Coast was equal.

  • paul says:

    T5 was never designed to have the Tensile Barriers as is currently laid out. Nor indeed was there ever supposed to be dedicated Club and Economy desks. The aim was that no one should ever have to queue and with only BA in residence, standard operating procedures should have made that possible.
    Several things conspired to make this unworkable. Firstly the calamitous opening and removal of the two directors responsible for passenger and ramp activities. This led to new people binning the idea that you did not need to segregate J passengers. As soon as this was done, check in capacity in other areas was reduced leading to the introduction of Tensile barriers; and, as everyone knows, the Brits love a queue and so they reproduced at an alarming rate to the mess that is now T5 check in.

    In fairness to those who decided that dedicated check in was necessary, the building design means the bulk of passengers arriving by public transport, car, from the car parks or from the underground or HEX all arrive at the North end of the terminal. They consequently all want to check in there and there is no natural flow from say, the center of the concourse to either end.

    The building was also constrained by two runways but there was a huge amount of costs cutting by Heathrow, leading to poor flows and the ridiculously long air bridges on the B and C gates. As always at LHR, retail was king. Just look at the costs to provide First security and direct access to the lounges.

    It is all a bit of a pickle and therefore quite remarkable that the place works as well as it does.

    • James says:


      I blame the designer.

      • Rob says:

        He lives around the corner from me. Not in a great way these days unfortunately, confined to a wheelchair.

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