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
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Read Next
Former N-Dubz singer Tulisa Contostavlos gives a statement outside Southwark Crown Court after her trial  

It would be wrong to compare brave Tulisa’s ordeal with phone hacking. It’s much worse than that

Matthew Norman
The Big Society Network was assessed as  

What became of Cameron's Big Society Network?

Oliver Wright
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary