BAA CEO Apologises for Heathrow’s December Disruption

On March 8, BAA Chief Executive Colin Matthews apologised to the UK House of Commons Transport Committee for the severe disruption suffered following the pre-Christmas snowfall at London Heathrow.
The airport’s snow disruption plan only covered falls up to a depth of 2.4 inches (6cm): “but [we] got far more than that,” said Mr Matthews.
At the time of the disruption Mr Matthews had described the snowfall as: “unprecedented” but now feels that: “In retrospect we should have had a plan for more snow than six centimetres.”
Thousands of passengers had to sleep in the airport’s terminals overnight during the disruption and as the problems continued, the British Government offered to help BAA by deploying troops for snow-clearing duties. The offer was declined.
Mr Matthews said the disruption at Heathrow cost BAA £20m (US$32m) while the bill across its six UK airports reached a total of £24m (US$32.4m).
He claimed that BAA had done: “all we possibly could” for passengers, but the bad weather “totally overwhelmed the ability of resources at Heathrow to cope with passengers.”
The transport committee also heard from representatives of British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, who said that communication between BAA and airlines was poor during the disruption.
BA’s Operations Director, Andrew Lord, said the weather on Saturday, December 18, was “extremely severe” but despite this the airline had expected Heathrow’s second runway to “close and reopen very quickly.” He concluded: “At the end of the day, if the airport operators do not provide a service to us it is our customers that suffer and that is a situation that is not acceptable to us.”
Mr Matthews said: “I am very sorry indeed for the thousands of disrupted passengers and for the thousands of Christmas holidays affected and for the airlines and the company.”
He added that BAA needed to: “dramatically improve” its ability to communicate and could “certainly have done better and will do better in the future.”
The British Government is considering new powers that would enable it to hold airport operators more to account regarding passenger-related performance issues.
In regard to this Mr Matthews told MPs: “I think it would be good to have a sweep of measures to reflect the customer experience and make sure that an airport operator does less well if it performs poorly.”
As Heathrow recovered from its December disruption, Mr Matthews will no doubt be eagerly awaiting the results of an external inquiry which is due to be made public later this month.