Running an airport or an airline is no doubt a hard job, not least because people most often notice you when something has gone wrong. One wag on twitter says he has a recurring nightmare in which he serves as a social media manager for a major carrier, and it is true that very few ‘take to twitter’ to complement an airline on the not-unimpressive logistical job of lifting you 35,000 feet in the air to arrive on the other side of the world on-time.
Many however have been venting their frustration after a summer of chaos at our airports. It’s important to say that chaos is not just a UK phenomenon – the editor of this publication had a particularly painful experience at Stockholm’s usually brilliantly organised Arlanda airport – but Heathrow does seem to have had a particularly bad run.
The hub’s boss John Holland-Kaye has said that the rapid growth in passenger numbers has caused it problems. Whilst that may be true, it is hard to credit that the airport looked at a population who hadn’t been allowed to go away for two summers and thought, “well, they’ll probably be happy with Eastbourne again, won’t they?” There are tribes in the Amazon who have yet to meet other civilisations who probably could have worked out there might be a bit of pent-up demand. So the excuse that growth moved too quickly and Heathrow couldn’t possibly be prepared doesn’t scan, not least when passenger levels remain far below pre-pandemic levels. If a cap was needed, it should have been brought in far earlier.
Airlines no doubt could have done better. Putting effectively full schedules on when airports weren’t ready was always going to end in disaster. Staffing patterns on the ground clearly couldn’t keep up with their ambitions.
No doubt there is plenty of work being done to resolve what is quickly turning into an airborne farce. No doubt it is difficult turning back on an industry that received precious little of the help it should have had from government during the pandemic. But a little less conversation and a little more action would be welcome.