Passengers on Wednesday afternoon’s easyJet flight from Gatwick to Rovaniemi in Finnish Lapland touched down to find barely a trace of snow.
As the city’s webcam shows, apart from a few small sprinklings of snow, the terrain on the Arctic Circle looks as though it was a pleasant late-summer day rather than a winter wonderland.
In the coming days, the annual “Santa season” is due to get under way, with hundreds of flights carrying tens of thousands of British families to Finnish Lapland – mainly to Rovaniemi, and also to four other airports. But according to the Norwegian Meteorological Institute, no snow is forecast for Rovaniemi for the rest of November – just a little rain.
There are fears that holidays may either be cancelled or that what should be a joyful experience will prove miserable.
These are the key questions and answers.
How does “Santa season” work?
Starting in late November, and running through to Christmas, tour operators arrange trips to Finnish Lapland for British families. The companies include specialists such as Transun and giant firms such as Tui. The standard offering is a day trip, typically costing £400 or £500 per person and packing in a range of activities.
The Finnish authorities say that 677 charter flights are expected this winter, a 15 per cent increase on 2017, carrying well over 100,000 passengers.
In addition, this winter, easyJet has launched flights from Gatwick to Rovaniemi, offering the prospect of DIY trips.
Transun says in its day-trip publicity: “On our Winter Wonderland day break, we take you and your family to a magical location, close to a vast snow-covered wilderness.”
Increasingly, though, travel firms are offering three- and four-day breaks, which are far more relaxed and rewarding, with Tui offering “a taster session of snowmobiling and husky or reindeer sleigh rides”.
How much snow usually falls – and and when might some more arrive?
A Visit Finland spokesperson said: “Following an unseasonably hot summer and autumn in Finland, Lapland is yet to see the heavy snowfall which would traditionally have fallen by now.
Transun tells prospective customers: “Snow falls in Lapland between October and May and it is common to find thick snow cover in November and December.” But the tour operator warns: “It is also possible that there may be a period of warmer weather, especially given the effects of global warming, which may cause the snow and ice to melt before the next snowfall.”
For the next two weeks, no snow is forecast, merely some rain on days when the temperature is expected to hover around zero.
As a result, some departures have been cancelled. Transun has done so with its first two outings, saying: “It has been unseasonably warm in Lapland recently and there has been limited snowfall. We have therefore cancelled our first two departures of the winter and offered affected passengers alternative dates later in December at no additional cost. If the alternative dates were not suitable, we have offered a full refund.
“We are monitoring the weather in Lapland daily, and putting contingency plans in place should the warm weather continue.
“We operate in a less commercial area about 250km further north of Rovaniemi, so the chances of snow are much greater.”
A TUI spokesperson told The Independent: “We keep a close eye on the forecasts and continue to monitor the situation closely, but we also have a number of contingency plans in place in Lapland to ensure customers can still have the trip they are looking forward to. For example many of the resorts we head to are able to make use of snow cannons as necessary.
“Unfortunately as the temperature isn’t predicted to be cold enough to allow for the completion of the Snow Village in Kittila for the first weekend of the season we have taken the difficult decision to cancel just the 1st and 2nd December day trips to that resort.
“We have directly contacted any affected customers with alternative options. We would like to reassure anyone heading to Kittila for three or four nights at the beginning of December or later, or to anyone due to visit any of our other Lapland resorts over this period or at a later point in the season, that we are confident we’ll be able to offer them the full experience as planned.”
What happens if our trip is cancelled?
You should be offered the choice of a full refund or an alternative departure date; if you opt for the latter, then there may be a price adjustment.
At the moment our trip is going ahead, but we no longer want to go. What rights to we have?
Talk to your travel agent or tour operator, asking what will happen if there is no snow – registering your concern about the forecasts and indicating that you will seek a refund if the holiday cannot be delivered as offered.
If you are booked on a three- or four-day trip with Tui, you could point out the firm says “you’ll have some free time to play in the snow” and that all the activities such as snowmobiling and sleigh rides will be included at some point during your holiday”.
But at the time you booked the trip, you agreed to terms and conditions that provide the operator with a lot of flexibility. Transun says, for example: “All activities are arranged subject to local weather conditions, which are outside of our control.
“If there are insufficient levels of snow or ice for reliant activities to operate upon the day of participation, then our suppliers will move all activities to a position where snow is available, adjust tracks accordingly so a modified activity programme can operate or provide alternative activities that are not reliant on snow and ice.
“Where this happens no refunds will be made.”
I’ve booked a DIY trip using the new easyJet flights. Can I get a refund or claim from my travel insurance?
No. The flights are going ahead regardless, and the accommodation you booked will also be available. The only possible option for a refund that I can see is if you have booked snow-related activities that cannot be carried out.
Is this a good time to explore Lapland?
Yes, with no impediments to travelling around, the landscapes of the Sami people are wide open. And Arktikum, the science and culture centre in Rovaniemi, remains a fascinating attraction.
You will certainly get a bargain on flights. Going out from Gatwick to Rovaniemi this coming Sunday, 25 November, and flying back three days later, easyJet is charging just £60 return per person for a family of four.
The Visit Finland spokesperson said: “Visitors travelling to Northern Finland now will nonetheless be able to explore Finland’s beautiful landscapes with an array of different activities, well as searching for the Aurora Borealis.
“We have no doubt the snow is on its way and look forward to welcoming visitors from around the world as usual throughout the winter season.”
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