x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

The Instant Expert: Holidays at home

The Instant Expert examines the problems facing stranded airline passengers during the Big Freeze of 2010.

Float through any social event with M's fast facts. This week Rick Arthur sympathises with travellers across the northern hemisphere stranded by the Big Freeze of 2010

THE BASICS Freezing weather and heavy snow disrupted travel across Europe, and later across North America, in late December, upsetting end-of-the-year plans for hundreds of thousands, and raised questions about the industry's preparation. British Airways put on extra flights in a bid to fly "tens of thousands" of people to their destinations before Christmas, after canceling 2,000 flights over five days.

FROM BAD TO WORSE ...Disruption to high-speed trains and clogged roads across Europe compounded the situation in one of the continent's snowiest ever Decembers.

... AND EVEN WORSE Leave it to the French, who are adept at walking off their jobs at the least ideal moments. A strike at the country's main antifreeze factory disrupted supplies of de-icing chemicals and kept planes on the ground.

MERRY CHRISTMAS Stranded passengers spent the night at airports as the Big Freeze cancelled flights. Those left at Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris were given camp beds and blankets as they saw in Christmas in the terminal.

SUMMING IT ALL UP "I'm so tired that I no longer have the strength to be angry," Zoe Stephanou, 45, a passenger at Charles de Gaulle, told Agence France-Presse.

INDEED The European Union blasted the "unacceptable" disruptions. The European Commission warned snowbound airports they could face regulation unless they "get serious" and provide airlines with enough support during severe weather in the future.

WHAT CAN YOU DO? Well. Grin and bear it, and try not to get stressed out. A stranded airline passenger in EU jurisdictions has no recourse when the reason for a delayed or cancelled flight is an "extraordinary circumstance" and thus is outside the airline's control. That includes weather (such as heavy snow and ice), nature (an erupting volcano) or strike action. Quite a nice loophole, isn't it?

STILL: BE PREPARED ... A smart passenger keeps a spare change of clothes and some toiletries in his or her hand luggage. These will prove useful when you're stranded away from home and your luggage is already checked in.

... AND RELAXED ... Take it easy. Read a book. Work on your laptop. Leave the airport and go to a nearby hotel. If you can't, wait in a quieter place such as the airline lounge or a restaurant.

... AND INFORMED ... Check your airline's website for updates. Seek advice from airline personnel before taking on any extra costs. Airlines still believe in caring for their passengers - and, obviously, in making money - so they are likely to rebook flights and reroute passengers to other destinations, and may even pay for a hotel room.

... AND ASSERTIVE If your airline doesn't hand out refreshment vouchers, ask for one. Keep all receipts if you end up using other transportation, or staying in a hotel, and file for reimbursement even if the airline isn't officially at fault. Don't wait more than six months.


Remembering the Big Blow

"The skies are totally empty over northern Europe," said Brian Flynn, the deputy head of operations for Eurocontrol, the air traffic control monitoring agency. "There will be some significant disruption of European air traffic tomorrow."

The December 2010 Big Freeze?

No, the April 2010 Big Blow.

When the volcano under Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull glacier began erupting on April 14, the tonnes of black ash it spewed emptied the skies across the UK, Scandinavia and France, grounding planes on a scale second only to the September 11 terror attacks.

UK airspace was shut down for six days that month and again in May, silencing the trans-Atlantic hub of Heathrow and stranding tens of thousands of passengers around the world.

"People can't remember a time when it has been on this scale," said Patrick Horwood of the National Air Traffic Service.

According to the German association of airports, ADV, three million passengers had their flights cancelled during the standstill. More than half of the 190,000 flights scheduled to take off in Europe were cancelled, Eurocontrol said.

The International Air Transport Association said the ban on flying cost its member airlines €1.3 billion (Dh6.27 billion).