The chaotic scenes at Gatwick Airport on Christmas Eve last year should serve as a “wake-up call for airports across the UK” in how to tackle disruption.

In the early hours of 24 December 2013, the basement of the North terminal at Gatwick flooded, resulting in electrical failures at the airport. This caused 72 flight cancellations, which left more than 11,000 people stranded and unable to get to see their family’s for Christmas.

The House of Commons Transport Committee report said that passengers complained about poor and inconsistent information, a lack of basic facilities, including toilets and water, and confusion about reimbursement.

These are common complaints from stranded travellers, and the report said:

The problems at Gatwick at Christmas Eve should be a wake-up call for airports across the UK to get on top of operational resilience issues. Disruption of whatever nature should be met with well-drilled plans, familiar to airport operators, airlines, and other contractors, which put passenger interests first.

The report also called for the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to bring forward proposals for improving access to information for passengers on their rights under EU legislation during disruption.

Launching a report examining the lessons to be learnt from this episode of airport chaos, Louise Ellman chair of the Transport Committee said:

“Many staff at Gatwick – working for the airport, the airlines, and other operators such as the baggage handlers – worked extremely hard to keep flights operating on Christmas Eve and to look after passengers, but the problems that unfolded were not new and the whole event should be a wake-up call for airports across the UK to improve their operational resilience.

Airports must ensure that their contingency planning is good enough to ensure that future disruption will be met with well-drilled arrangements that are familiar to airport operators, airlines, and other contractors, and which put passenger interests first.

Passengers need accurate and consistent information, must be able to identify who is in charge during periods of disruption, and should have ready access to toilets and drinking water. If our largest airports cannot demonstrate they can look after passengers’ interests in this way then the Civil Aviation Authority must act.

Passengers must also be promptly reimbursed for the extra costs they face as a consequence of disruption. It was clear from evidence to this inquiry that there is considerable scope for airlines to ensure passengers are far better informed about their rights when flights are delayed or cancelled and how to enforce these rights.”

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