Reply To: Chaos at T5…now

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As one who has first-hand experience of what happens when things go catastrophically wrong at Heathrow, I’m not overly inclined to be charitable until I see genuine evidence that lessons have been learnt from the past.

However, in the interests of fairness, I’d point out that, for example, the Schiphol website is mostly returning the following error:

Access to this website is impeded due to huge visitor numbers as a result of the current bad weather conditions.

We apologize for the inconvenience

– and that their departure boards look very much grimmer than Heathrow’s – T5 or all-terminal. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Schiphol is in meltdown with almost every single flight after 12:00CET cancelled.

There are going to be some very tired passengers refugeed all over Europe this weekend – let’s just hope that everyone makes it home in time for Christmas.

Four hours in a fully-catered lounge doesn’t seem too traumatic, by comparison.

Speaking of comparisons, my own personal (horrendous) experience of irrops at T5, and my subsequent research does also highlight some of the real differences between BA and the likes of BD and VS.

In the latter case, there are a tiny number of interlined connecting passengers on any given flight, and all Virgin flights are longhaul. If they have a no-show then, for the most part, they’ll simply take off without them, unaware of the passenger’s whereabouts and without obligation to them. If and when the passenger finally does arrive, they’ll need to be reticketed landside and the departure lounge stays reasonably quiet.

Likewise, when a longhaul Virgin flight lands, most of its passengers will, as far as VS are concerned, be terminating. They’ll collect their bags and exit landside to make any onward connection. Result – not Virgin’s problem, and the airside departure lounge remains untroubled.

With BA, as with KL at AMS, LH at FRA, AF at CDG etc, up to 80% of a shorthaul passenger load could be interline connecting, and a significant percentage of longhaul inbounds will be too. They’ll be looked after in transit, airside. From a vantage point like BA Galleries at T5, or even the Security balcony, the impression of a seething mass is heightened. Airlines like BA, KL, LH and AF will do everything that they can to hold a longhaul departure so that shorthaul connections can make the flight – especially if flying conditions suggest that time can be made up in the air.

So, some of the delays are managed – not simply a meltdown scenario – as frustrating as they may be to passengers who have orginated at the hub rather than having connected into it.

As BD’s network and frequencies have been culled, so too has the number of interlined connecting passengers that it carries. Once again, if you no-show for your BD flight and they have no idea about your connecting itinerary, you’re going to find yourself landside at T1 with only insurance to help.

The other thing that works in bmi’s favour during times of irrops, but fundamentally works against them when the sun shines, is their aircraft utilisation – which is extremely low compared to other airlines, including their parent. Indeed, it is not uncommon to see BD aircraft sitting on remote stands downroute all day, waiting for the evening peak flight. It’s presumably one of the reasons for the carrier’s continued financial weakness, but it does mean that they can be pressed into service on the few days a year when the snow falls. The schedule still goes to pot, but they do avoid outright cancellations rather better than the asset-sweating competition.

That’s not much consolation to the many former BD passengers who’ve lost BD route service completely over the years, irrespective of inclemencies. Indeed, if you live in the North East of England and wish to fly to London Heathrow, not only is BA the most reliable option, it’s now the only option since BD conspired to strangle their MME route and switch the slots used to LH Italia…..

Worse still, if you’re at Durham Tees Valley Airport hoping to depart to a longhaul destination now, and since you can no longer fly to LHR, you’ll be completely stuck if you’ve opted for KLM, who have cancelled 100% of flights and, without a boat, you have no way of getting to Amsterdam.

If you opted for BA from Newcastle instead, and yours is one of the 50% flights cancelled today, and (so far) one of the 17% tomorrow, then you could still travel to London by train and potentially make your onward connection.

As ever, there are sometimes things that we can individually do to minimise our exposure to disruption, or to mitigate its impact.

However, a lack of de-icing resource at Heathrow T5, if it continues to be the case, is quite unacceptable. It was bad enough in January 2010 but, with ten months to have addressed the issue, there can simply be no excuses now.

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