2010 began the way it ended, with airline travelers stranded on both sides of the Atlantic. In early 2010 it was due to the wafting drifts from the Icelandic volcano whose name most of us can’t pronounce. But 2010’s ending had a different reason. This time, it was mainly one airport, Heathrow, and not most of the airports on the Western European continent leaving passengers to camp out in their airport for several days.
Earlier this year, there were many cancellations and many passengers camping out in airports for extended periods of time. It seemed that the eruptions would go on forever. But they didn’t. Even when the volcanic clouds kept coming, the various airports found ways around the problem. They came up with alternate routes for moving their stranded customers to their intended destinations.
In the case of the latter end of the year, four inches of snow landed on the ground in December and all European airports, but one, were closed down from only a few hours up to one day. But Heathrow created a similar situation as the volcanic eruption by stranding passengers for days. The volcanic blast was unavoidable. However, the snow situation might have been lessened if things had been done a bit differently.
According to the Travel Insider, “…there were too few snow plows, too few blowers, too few tankers spraying anti-icing compound on the ground, and too few staff…” at Heathrow. According to this same source both the affected airlines and the government offered to send in help to clear the runways. But the airport management actually
turned down all offers.
Before the snow hit, I heard an English commentator on the CBS early morning news show, warning that London and their main airport would be in a complete mess due to a forecast snow, even though it would only be four inches. This person stated that this was not an isolated instant of confusion at this airport but a commonly expected occurrence.
Joe Brancatelli said that the Heathrow management had totally failed. He gave advice on using alternate airports and avoiding London during bad weather days.
I went through Heathrow in 2009 on my way to Brussels. There were no weather problems during that time. The airport had lost my reservation information. I wasn’t checking in. I was already checked in and was just transferring from one plane to another within the same airline. But they couldn’t find me in their system. They sent me to the Belgian desk where they easily found my reservation and sent me on my way. The people at the desk told me that this was a common occurrence for Heathrow.
When I arrived at my destination, my checked bag did not arrive with me and was missing for 5 days. The Brussels Airport told me that this was a common situation when dealing with Heathrow Airport.
I’ve had missing luggage two other times. Both times it was through Schipol Airport in Amsterdam. The first time my missing luggage was delivered to me within hours. The second time, even though I saw them put my bags on the wrong plane, they were still able to deliver my missing luggage to me the next day. I was home in the US.
The only other situation that I have experienced, similar to the one with Heathrow, was when we were flying Allitalia out of Milan’s Malpensa Airport in Italy. My sister-in-law had warned us not to fly Allitalia because they were so bad. However, our airline had switched us to Allitalia. We were put in the wrong gate for hours with
definite assurances that it was the right one until we were directed two floors up to another gate. The plane was a half hour late taking off due to our misdirection.
I would suggest voting with our ticket purchases. Registering complaints hasn’t changed what this airport is doing. But our redirected ticket reservations might have an effect. I understand that according to the Travel Insider, Heathrow’s neighboring airport, Gatwick was closed for 5 hours, under the same weather conditions. When the reopened they flew out more than their usual amount of passengers in an effort to help the situation.
Gatwick is the kind of airport I would prefer to go to in any case. That’s why we’ve preferred going through Newark instead of JFK over the years. Their attitude has been friendlier toward passengers. I would also suggest checking out the other London airports. If you are just connecting through to another country, then consider using another connection than Heathrow. I have been using other connections since my experience with Heathrow in 2009.
Travel can be full of unexpected and life stretching experiences why add a torturous experience to that list, especially if there are viable alternatives.