Leading article: Passengers should be treated decently, even when it snows

Share
Related Topics

From Northern Ireland to the south-east of England, the United Kingdom has been in the grip of its second serious snowfall of the season, with all the disruption and disappointment that comes with it. But a touch of realism is also needed. There are times, in even the best-prepared and best-organised countries, when severe weather thwarts transport of all kinds. Britain has not been the only place to have shuddered to a halt in the face of sub-zero temperatures and early snow. It is not just British planes and trains that have been cancelled, not just British roads where snow has trapped drivers in their vehicles overnight.

Of course, this was a particularly unfortunate weekend for the snow to fall; 25 December represents an immovable deadline for the millions who celebrate Christmas according to the Western calendar. As in the United States before Thanksgiving, whole families are on the move for a reunion that may happen just once a year. Any cancellation or postponement has knock-on effects on a myriad minutely-planned journeys.

So it was entirely predictable that, when British Airways announced the cancellation of all its Heathrow flights and many of its Gatwick flights on Saturday, the passions of grounded passengers would be running high. As the blizzard passed from west to east, other airports closed runways and other airlines had to cancel flights. In the meantime, thousands had found themselves stranded at airports, forced to kip down where they could under thermal sheets, and with no certainty about when, or even whether, they would fly.

And this points to some of what needs to be done differently. If airports cannot control the weather, (which they cannot), and if even hi-tech equipment cannot cope, (which seems to have been the case at Heathrow and Gatwick), the airport authorities and the airlines must devise far better contingency arrangements. The problem is especially acute at London's airports, in particular Heathrow, because they are such major international hubs. It is not just the airports that should see their interest in getting this right, but the Government. Airport shortcomings quickly affect the country's reputation as a business and tourist destination; complaints are swiftly heard around the world.

This weekend, although heavy snow was forecast, neither the airlines nor the airports appear to have been any better prepared than in the past to deal with so many stranded passengers. But the biggest complaint from would-be passengers was not about execrable conditions at the airports, but about the lack of timely and accurate information. BA, by cancelling its flights early and asking people not to go the airport, may in fact have done its passengers a favour.

It is all very well for airlines to blame the British Airports Authority, and vice versa, but the demarcation of responsibilities means little to stranded travellers. Nor is it any use directing people to phone lines that are not answered or websites they have no means of accessing. Most people will appreciate that, in a fluid situation, airlines will not immediately be able to produce a new booking, but some early commitment to a refund or a flight allocated on a fair basis might help cool tempers. Even the presence of someone official and informed would be an improvement.

All that said, not everything was as bleak as the weather. This time, many major roads were treated and remained open. In London, unlike last January when the mayor had all the buses taken off the road, public transport was mostly restored once the storm had passed. And from all over the country came reports of NHS staff and others turning up to work on a day off because they could get there and knew others could not. We could do with a bit more of that spirit at the airports.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Hire Manager - Tool Hire

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

I don't blame parents who move to get their child into a good school

Chris Blackhurst
William Hague, addresses delegates at the Conservative party conference for the last time in his political career in Birmingham  

It’s only natural for politicians like William Hague to end up as journalists

Simon Kelner
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference