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: Office / Sales Manager

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Syria's Kurds have little choice but to flee amid the desolution, ruins and danger they face

Patrick Cockburn
A bartender serves two Mojito cocktails  

For the twenty-somethings of today, growing up is hard to do

Simon Kelner
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
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
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
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
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones