Gatwick says sorry for chaos after biblical Christmas floods

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GATWICK has made a fresh apology to passengers left stranded on Christmas Eve, after it emerged that the airport’s chief executive was on holiday in Newcastle as staff struggled to find enough bus drivers to move passengers.

Chief executive Stewart Wingate said the airport had just half an hour’s warning of the “biblical” flooding that hit the region. The Environment Agency had forecast a flood at the north terminal would happen less than once every hundred years, he added.

EasyJet, the airport’s biggest carrier, said “the movement of passengers through the airport was not managed well”, with just eight bus drivers initially on duty to ferry people between terminals and to the waiting planes.

Executives said Gatwick had suffered a power outage in October and handled the schedule changes “fairly well”, and an EasyJet spokesperson said the airline “would love to be consulted” on what the airport plans to do if a terminal is taken out of action in the future.

Wingate claimed that the plan to shift passengers to the remaining terminal was highly unusual and admitted it was “a step too far”.

“On any other day I’m sure we would have cancelled flights, but given it was Christmas Eve we took unprecedented decision to move the vast majority to north terminal.” Wingate was on annual leave when the warning came at 4.15am, and decided to manage the chaos by conference call rather than make the six-hour drive back to London.

“It’s clear to me that there’s much more we could and should have done with our airport partners to ensure our passengers had a painless day,” he told the transport select committee yesterday.

Dozens of flights were cancelled and passengers complained they were kept in the dark as other services were switched to the south terminal. The police asked staff to leave the crowded baggage halls as they tried to calm angry passengers.

Global Infrastructure Partners has spent £20m on flood defences for the south terminal since taking over Gatwick in 2009, Wingate said. “[W]e will spend similar amounts of money if we have to protect the north terminal,” he added.