Far better contingency planning and preparedness must be put in place by UK airports, and by the airlines that use them, to prevent the kind of chaos that unfolded at Gatwick Airport on Christmas Eve 2013, warn MPs on the Transport Select Committee.
In the early hours of Christmas Eve the basement of the North Terminal at Gatwick Airport flooded, causing some electrical systems to fail. As a result, 72 of the 260 flights due to leave Gatwick on Christmas Eve were cancelled, affecting over 11,000 passengers. Information systems did not operate and toilets were out of order.
Launching a report examining the lessons to be learnt from this episode of airport chaos, Louise Ellman chair of the Transport Committee said today:
"Many staff at Gatwick – working for the airport, the airlines, and other operators such as the baggage handlers – worked extremely hard to keep flights operating on Christmas Eve and to look after passengers, but the problems that unfolded were not new and the whole event should be a wake-up call for airports across the UK to improve their operational resilience.
Airports must ensure that their contingency planning is good enough to ensure that future disruption will be met with well-drilled arrangements that are familiar to airport operators, airlines, and other contractors, and which put passenger interests first.
Passengers need accurate and consistent information, must be able to identify who is in charge during periods of disruption, and should have ready access to toilets and drinking water. If our largest airports cannot demonstrate they can look after passengers' interests in this way then the Civil Aviation Authority must act.
Passengers must also be promptly reimbursed for the extra costs they face as a consequence of disruption. It was clear from evidence to this inquiry that there is considerable scope for airlines to ensure passengers are far better informed about their rights when flights are delayed or cancelled and how to enforce these rights."
The Committee welcomed a key conclusion from Gatwick's own review of the events on Christmas Eve which found the airport should appoint passenger champions at each of its terminals, to focus on passenger welfare. MPs suggest that similar arrangements should also be put in place at other major UK airports.
The Committee also recommends:
- Airports should develop (in consultation with airlines) much clearer operational protocols and guidance on the threshold conditions that will trigger the cancellation or postponement of flights.
- Airports should negotiate robust agreements with airlines (which carry formal responsibility for passenger welfare) for reclaiming the costs of looking after passengers during periods of disruption.
- The Civil Aviation Authority should bring forward proposals by autumn 2014 to improve routine provision of information to passengers about their rights at times of disruption.
- The Civil Aviation Authority must come back to Parliament with evidence that progress is being made to improve the quality and efficacy of contingency plans for both Heathrow and Gatwick and to ensure these plans are properly tested and widely disseminated.
- Government should push for amendments to a proposed new EU regulation on passenger compensation to include electronic means of alert and information dissemination.