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  • Snow politics
    Posted by Rupa Haria 12:35 PM on Dec 20, 2010

    The U.K., and much of Europe, has been deluged by heavy snowfall, causing widespread travel chaos as airports were forced to close. 

    In an unprecedented event, London’s Heathrow, the world’s busiest airport, closed both its runways for two days as it struggled to shift the snow and make its operation safe. But while operational staff battled against the elements to clear the snow in below freezing temperatures, the scenes inside the airport terminal have been likened to that of a third world country.

    blog post photo

    Photo courtesy of Joseph Cheung

    Broken promise

    Little under a month ago, Heathrow was boasting its recent investment in snow equipment with a promise "that we'll be ready, waiting and doing everything we can to make every journey better for our passengers".

    Tragically for Heathrow, that promise was broken after four inches of snow forced it to close. 

    The Daily Mail says that “travellers at Heathrow airport were condemned to spend hour after hour huddled in corridors – cold, hungry, thirsty, exhausted and fast losing patience with the lack of information about what (if anything) might happen and when.”

    Inevitably, BAA Heathrow’s closure has become mired in politics as the traveling public, media and politicians look for someone to blame. All eyes are firmly fixed on BAA.

    Here’s a quick round-up of what some of the U.K.'s papers have to say:

    Heathrow Refugee Camp

    The Daily Mail has published several photos of the chaotic scenes at Heathrow, dubbing it ‘The Heathrow Refugee Camp’.

    BAA’s chief executive, Colin Matthews said: 'I'm really disappointed to have disrupted so many thousands of people's Christmas plans. It's absolutely distressing and heart-breaking to have been in the terminals and confronted with individuals, each with their stories of really sad and disappointing outcomes. I couldn't be more sorry, that's the case.'

    BAA criticism intensifies

    The Telegraph offers an in-depth view of the situation. It says that Philip Hammond, the U.K.’s Transport Secretary, this morning promised an inquiry into how stranded passengers were treated at the airport over the weekend, as he acknowledged public "outrage" over the disruption.  

    "Once we have got through the problem, once we have got things moving again, then we will have to have that discussion and find out exactly what went wrong and, most importantly, what went wrong in handling passengers who were stranded.


    "I think whilst people are obviously deeply upset about the inconvenience, particularly at this time of year, of having their travel plans disrupted, most of what I am hearing is a sense of outrage about the way they were then treated when they were stranded at Heathrow airport."


    Not the Time To Make Decisions


    Meanwhile, Mr Hammond told Sky News that "now was not the time" to make decisions on whether more cash should be invested in helping Britain's infrastructure deal with the extreme cold.


    "Once we've got out of the current situation and we have cleared the backlogs at the airports then we do need to ask whether we need to make a step-change in investment priorities," he said.


    "But if we invest more money in winter resilience then that means less money to invest in other things.


    "But we need to do this decision-making in a clear, calm, rational way looking at what's the real likelihood of these events happening again in the future.


    "Now is not the time to make these decisions."

    “If there was a war on we’d surely be able to sort this out”

    The Guardian says that BAA is under pressure from the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who phoned the airport authority's chief executive, Colin Matthews, to voice concerns about Heathrow's capacity to cope with the wintry weather. He questioned whether BAA was doing everything possible to get the airport moving and whether it had sufficient staff and equipment to deal with the deluges of snow and disruptions.

    "I stressed the huge economic importance of Heathrow. If there was a war on we'd surely be able to sort this out," said Johnson. "Most people realise that it has not snowed at Heathrow for some time so it is vital everything is done to get the aircraft and passengers moving again."


    Tags: tw99, heathrow, baa, snow, europe

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