Willie Walsh revealed BA misplaced 23,300 bags following T5’s opening – he described this as “misconnected”, saying: “We do not lose bags.”

The T5 baggage system was tested for 18 months prior to opening. But BAA boss Colin Matthews conceded: “In retrospect, testing did not adequately reflect the difficulty of operations. Maybe the baggage we tested was too uniform.”

Most of the misplaced bags belonged to transfer passengers – a common problem at Heathrow because delayed inbound passengers can pass transfer to a connecting flight more quickly than a bag is processed.

BA drew media criticism for sending some bags to Memphis and others to Milan. Walsh explained this was due to UK security requirements. EC regulations allow delayed bags to go on the next flight, but in the UK bags must be screened again.

“The most effective way to comply,” said Walsh, “was to transport 18,500 bags to Gatwick for screening and then return them to Heathrow.

“We sent 4,000 bags to Milan by road – for people living in Europe – so they did not require extra screening, and some to Memphis for
US-based passengers. It was the quickest way.”

He insisted the baggage system is now working well. It was designed so no more than one bag per 1,000 goes astray. During tests, Walsh said it had misplaced five bags per 1,000. “That is now down to about 1.3,” he said.