This was the shocking scene that greeted KONE service engineer Nigel Stride on arrival at work one Monday morning. All four priority lifts in Terminal 1 were not responding because contractors working overnight had interrupted the controls.
Crowds arriving on the Heathrow Express train link built up quickly. Beads of perspiration trickled down Stride’s forehead as hundreds of nail-biting travellers jostled around him.
“It was a quick fix in the end, but that was the most stressful quarter hour I’ve ever experienced,” says Stride. He and 41 other engineers and technicians look after the airport’s 1,035 lifts, escalators and autowalks, keeping Heathrow running like clockwork around the clock.
With 191,000 people passing through Heathrow daily, there’s rarely a dull moment.
“Every breakdown has immediate impact. If something goes wrong, it’s all hands at the pump to get the unit up and running as quickly as possible,” says Stride. He describes the equipment in the airport as the “critical link” connecting the city to the departure gates and the world beyond.
“Without that key part in the middle, the whole jigsaw falls to pieces.”
A minor disturbance can have a major domino effect. “Airlines don’t wait for late passengers these days. If someone misses a flight due to faulty equipment, it impacts many lives.”
Though safety is an absolute priority for KONE crews, this goes double at the airport. “We can’t leave sharp tools lying around because of the security risks. We’re even required to look out for unattended items and people behaving suspiciously. We’re an extra pair of eyes for security personnel.”
Even with barriers placed around the worksite, Stride takes special precautions when working amid large crowds in confined spaces. “With luggage everywhere and excited children running around, things can turn nasty quickly.”
Doors account for a large percentage of repairs, he reveals. Damage is typically caused by customers who crash into lifts with luggage trolleys or disabled buggies.
“Once there was a man – who had perhaps enjoyed too much inflight entertainment – who drove his car into the elevator in front of the lobby. We managed to repair the lift, but the car was pretty much a wreck.”