Gatwick Airport Christmas Eve chaos should be 'wake-up call' say MPs

Damning report released today said airports must learn to better deal with disruption like that caused by flooding at Gatwick on Christmas Eve last year

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The Independent Online

The weather-triggered chaos at Gatwick Airport on Christmas Eve should be "a wake-up call for airports across the UK" to the need of better dealing with disruption, a report by MPs has said.

Over 11,000 passengers were affected by delays and cancellations on December 24 of last year when flooding caused a power failure at the airport.

The report into the Gatwick disruptions, published today by the House of Commons Transport Committee outlined a number of key issues reported by those who were attempting to travel.

These included: Poor and often inconsistent provision of information about what was happening; lack of clarity about who was in charge; a lack of basic facilities, such as toilets and drinking water, and confusion over what expenses passengers could be reimbursed for, particularly if alternative flights had to be arranged.

The committee's report said: "The problems at Gatwick at Christmas Eve should be a wake-up call for airports across the UK to get on top of operational resilience issues.

"Disruption of whatever nature should be met with well-drilled plans, familiar to airport operators, airlines, and other contractors, which put passenger interests first."

The committee said there was a wider problem "with complex EU legislation on passenger rights to compensation when flights are delayed or cancelled".

The report continued: "We recommend that Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) bring forward proposals by the autumn for improving the provision of information to passengers about their rights at times of disruption.

"We also recommend that the Government push for amendment to the proposed new EU regulation on this issue to include electronic means of alert and information dissemination."

Upon release of the report today, committee chairman Louise Ellman said: "Passengers need accurate and consistent information, must be able to identify who is in charge during periods of disruption, and should have ready access to toilets and drinking water.

"If our largest airports cannot demonstrate they can look after passengers' interests in this way then the CAA must act.

"Passengers must also be promptly reimbursed for the extra costs they face as a consequence of disruption.

"It was clear from evidence to this inquiry that there is considerable scope for airlines to ensure passengers are far better informed about their rights when flights are delayed or cancelled and how to enforce these rights."

The report did welcome a key finding from Gatwick's own review of the events, which found the airport should appoint passenger champions at each of its terminals, to focus on passenger welfare.

It was suggested that similar arrangements should also be put in place at other major UK airports.

Shadow aviation minister Gordon Marsden said: "It's clear from this report that we need a step change to ensure passengers are made the priority in air travel.

"Despite the efforts of individual staff, management failures left passengers in the dark over the fate of their flights and compensation. The Government must be far more proactive in improving passenger experience."

A spokeswoman for the Department for Transport said: "Passengers rightly expect to be kept informed during circumstances such as those at Gatwick this winter, and it is important that the airport carefully considers these recommendations and takes the necessary steps to increase the resilience of the airport to future flooding and heavy rainfall.

"Other airports should also learn lessons from this report."

Additional reporting from PA