Reply To: LHR Snow Disruption – Jan 2010 Views

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My experience last Friday was very similar to Binman62. 20 minutes of snow ( 1cm deep ) causing meltdown ( forgive the pun ), We watched in bafflement as landing aircraft sat motionless waiting for gates, and departure times kept slipping with no sign of any management to communicate what was happening and what was being done to address the problems ( only the junior pilot with the oversized hat as mentioned on another thread ). However, flights from the other terminals appeared to be leaving on a regular basis. In 3 hours I saw just 4 BA flights depart.

My flight to Prague was 7 hours late – 3 hours of no communication from BA in the lounge and 4 hours on the aircraft waiting to be de-iced. I was advised T5 only has a maximum of 7 de-icing rigs working at one time – totally inadequate for 50-60 gates. Top marks to the BA crew who decided to give the inflight service whilst on the ground, and to the Captain who allowed the young children to visit the flight deck ( he’ll probably get the sack for doing so ! ). However, bottom marks to BA and BAA for the way they handled the situation..

On Friday, there was no snow or ice to prevent the aircraft from pulling away from their stands, only a lack of de-icing equipment ( BAA’s fault, and BA ‘s fault for tolerating this ). The priority for de-icing was apparently the large aircraft ie 400 passengers take priority over 120 etc. However, an A320 never seems to take longer than 5-7 minutes to de-ice (compared to 20-30 minutes for a B747 ) so had these had priority more gates could have been freed up much quicker allowing more landing planes to get to the gates and less flights to be cancelled etc.

At just about every other airport the de-icing takes place at a designated area away from the terminal and close to the runway. At Heathrow this happens at the gate, which inevitably leads to problems with aircraft remaining on the stand. Otherwise the aircraft waiting to be de-iced could have been towed away from the stands and could have waited where the planes which had landed were waiting for gates to become available…..

Whilst the weather on Saturday may have been extreme and the problems arising more understandable and justifiable, I’m afraid this doesn’t apply to the incompetence demonstrated on Friday, and we mustn’t confuse the two situations. Most businesses have contingency plans and see these as being critical, it doesn’t appear this was the case with BAA or BA last Friday…..

My return flight on BA on Sunday was cancelled. As I could not get through to the BA call centre we decided to make a new reservation on CSA to fly to Brussels on the earliest flight available, and then booked the Eurostar. The CSA flight was 3 hours late due to the reduced capacity at Brussels due to only one runway being operational ( it was snowing heavily when we landed ), and this resulted in our Eurostar connection being missed. However, I was able to get through to their call centre after a wait of only 10 minutes and was advised to turn up at Brussels Midi the following morning for first come, first served. This was sucessful so we are able to get to Heathrow to collect the car Monday lunchtime.

Had we waited for BA to rebook we would probably still be in Prague. A couple of passengers we spoke to at Prague Airport advised they had been rebooked for Wednesday, but we didn’t have time to join the huge queue in order to find out what they had in store for us. Anyway, I have little expectation of any of the additional cost incurred will be reimbursed by BA even though our actions have saved them 3 or 4 nights accomodation costs !

As an aside, Prague airport was reported to have had 12 inches of snow, the average temperatures over the weekend were minus 8-10 degrees yet was only closed for 45 minutes ( on Wednesday ). The only delays or cancellations on Sunday were as a result of problems at the other airports. Maybe some lessons for BAA learn from them ?

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