Snow chaos at airports Shared responsibility for passengers

As in the years before, this years winter has come with freezing temperatures and heavy snowfall causing havoc for air travellers in many parts of Europe. A number of airports have been closed for extended periods while others have seen shorter closures, or extensive flight delays, as a result of being unable to cope with the weather conditions

No-one doubts that a severe blizzard can close an airport, nor that it takes time for a heavy snowfall to be cleared from runways and aircraft to be de-iced, said AEA Secretary General Ulrich Schulte-Strathaus. But it does appear that a number of major airports have been taken by surprise during recent days, have reacted slowly or have lacked the equipment needed to cope with the conditions.  Others, equally affected by the weather, have performed excellently, showing that adverse weather need not necessarily disrupt operations.

The aviation value chain, he said, existed ultimately to serve the end user the passenger or cargo shipper.  Reaction to these weather conditions should be a co-operative effort, involving airports, ground handlers, the airlines and indeed the passengers themselves. 
And yet, said Mr Schulte-Strathaus, when disruption occurs, and passengers do not receive the service they have paid for, inevitably they seek explanations from their airlines.  The whole fabric of passenger-rights legislation automatically places the responsibility of delivering a satisfactory outcome to the customer on the airlines, whether or not they were the cause of the disruption, whether the cause lay elsewhere along the value chain, or whether the disruption was genuinely exceptional and unavoidable. During these harsh winter conditions, he said, all modes of transport are affected, and help to stranded passengers is provided wherever possible; airlines likewise do their utmost, but should not be held exclusively responsible.

AEA calls on the European Commission to establish clear responsibilities of all concerned, so that  in the case of massive service disruption, passengers do not have unrealistic expectations and if airports, ground handling companies or other stakeholders fail to deliver the service expected of them, they are held liable.  Europes airlines compete globally, which means that they cannot afford to be burdened by inefficiencies specific to their core market Europe.  Whether it is an inability to coordinate an effective response to volcanic ash, a dysfunctional air traffic control system, or airports closing because winter weather happens in December, the outcomes are similar airline services are disrupted, the passengers suffer and European competitiveness is affected. We are not blaming the weather, but people who fail to anticipate cold weather in winter; that is a problem airlines cannot fix, said Ulrich Schulte-Strathaus.
David Henderson


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