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Will new terminal rejuvenate London's Heathrow?

T5 opens after six years and $8.5 billion.

Better ... everything: Queen Elizabeth II opened Heathrow's high-tech new terminal, dubbed T5, on March 14.

Steve Parsons/AP

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Lost baggage, long queues, dreary carpets, dim lighting, and miles to the departure gates: Heathrow may be the world's largest international airport, but for the 68 million passengers who pass through each year, there has been little else to coo about.

Until now. The airport that began life more than 60 years ago in a grassy field will be reborn Thursday with a new $8.5 billion terminal that aims to transform Heathrow's image as a place to avoid.

Terminal 5, or T5 as it has become known, is everything that its four aging siblings are not: a triumphant geometry of glass, steel, marble, and hardwood that is light, spacious, and technologically 21st century.

And when the first inbound passengers from Hong Kong step blinking into its cavernous vectors at around 5 a.m. Thursday, they may be forgiven for thinking they have been diverted to one of Heathrow's prouder rivals – Madrid, say, or Charles de Gaulle.

"The terminal is absolutely spectacular," says one airport insider who worked on T5. "You forget you are at Heathrow. It definitely will change the passenger experience."

Simon Calder, a British travel writer, is less effusive. He says Heathrow has much to do to change its image. "It's the gateway to Europe and travelers from North America and elsewhere expect a warm welcome, a smooth transfer, and general absence of stress.


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