20 January 2011

The EU Transport Commissioner has stated that European airports must be ready to meet minimum service standards to prevent a repeat of this winter’s travel chaos. A total of 35,000 flights across Europe were cancelled in December 2010 alone because of freezing temperatures and heavy snow, with Heathrow closed for five days.

 Siim Kallas said that airports must introduce contingency plans and warned EU legislation was likely. After meeting with officials from several European airports including Paris, Frankfurt, Heathrow and Schiphol, he said: “Volcanic ash is difficult for the aviation industry to predict, but we know that winter arrives every year and we should be ready for it. If you have 30 centimetres of snow suddenly in central Europe it is something very exceptional. But if you have one centimetre of snow and you still have announcements that flights are cancelled, this I consider unacceptable.”

 He said that the responsibility to plan for extreme weather conditions lay with the aviation industry but that the EU would do all it could to help passengers. He urged airport operators to prepare winter contingency plans and make them public by October 2011, adding that one key issue to correct is the lack of information provided to passengers. He also warned airport operators: “We need to introduce minimum service and quality requirements at European airports for our passengers. Those requirements will form part of the legislative proposals in the Airport Package due later this year.”

 However, he did rule out any legislation that would allow passengers to sue airport operators in such situations, saying the system provides for people to seek redress through their airline operators that in turn seek compensation from airport operators.