/ Travel & Leisure

How can airports make flight delays more bearable?

Departure board showing delayed flights

Cancelled – the most annoying word to see next to your flight number. But airports and airlines are at least trying to improve their services in extreme weather – so how could they do better when the next crisis hits?

My holiday in San Francisco in December was extended by five days due to the snow chaos at Heathrow.

There are, of course, worse places to get stuck and I was staying with family so it was by no means a terrible situation.

But re-booking my flight was a nuisance that required re-dialling the airline number around 25 times to get through then holding on the phone for over two hours. Again, it could have been worse – at least I could borrow a phone and didn’t need to roam on my UK mobile or queue for hours to use a pay phone.

35,000 flights were cancelled across Europe in December as airport operators failed to cope with the snowy weather. As airlines struggled to re-book and provide for stranded passengers, hundreds of people away from home had little choice but to sleep on airport floors.

Plans for progress

The European Commissioner for Transport, Siim Kallas, is determined to prevent a repeat of this mess. He recently met with a group of senior representatives from some of Europe’s major airport operators, including BAA’s Terry Morgan.

Kallas has urged airports to come back to him as soon as possible with a progress report on contingency planning for next winter. A step in the right direction, I’d say, but the good news is that the Commission is going further.

New legislative proposals introducing minimum service and quality standards for passengers at airports will come to light in 2011. First they’ll need to go through the (at times longwinded) EU policy-making process, so we’ll be keeping a close eye on progress and campaign towards improving passenger rights.

How can services improve?

What kind of service would you expect from an airport and airline if your flight was cancelled?

If you’ve been in this situation and had a bad experience, how could the airline and airport have done better and made your cancellation more bearable?

Sophie Gilbert says:
31 January 2011

As a fairly frequent flyer and also a fairly frequent victim of delays and cancellations (though not on a par with what some people had to endure last December), I’d love to be provided with a quiet, warm lounge, free of kids, mobiles phones, TV and music, and a comfy seat. Simple as that.

If you were one of the unlucky travellers to be caught up in the snow disruption in November and December, follow the link below to a survey to give your views on how airports, airlines and other companies operating at UK airports, met, or failed to meet, your expectations. The survey is being run by the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority. They are keen to hear from as many people who experienced disruption as possible to try and build the best possible picture of what worked well and what did not, so they can work with industry to improve the situation in case of future disruptions.