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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

Read Next
‘Would Gary Lineker depart if his pay were halved, and would it affect the quality of MoTD?’  

BBC Me – no Archers, and no Fiona Bruce

DJ Taylor
Feeling the heat: David Cameron last week in Lanzarote  

The parable of the PM and the jellyfish

Joan Smith
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit