Air travel: lessons of the last few days

The heavy snow all over Europe, then the air traffic controllers strike in Spain, should have caused some lessons to be learned.

One of the lessons of the past few days is clearly that the web sites designed to inform us of what is happening on the roads, railways, sea and in the air, tend to fall to pieces when we all want information at the same time. There is also a general complaint that not enough information is available anyway: at the weekend the airport web site said absolutely nothing about a strike in Spain, yet showed many flights cancelled or very delayed.

The aircraft of the airline companies were stuck all over the place when Geneva airport, like others, was completely shut. Thus, when it opened again the various aircraft had to get back to their home base and normal schedules. Some did this using call signs indicating that they were operating a normal flight. Others, in particular easyJet, used call signs that normally indicate that they were operating a ferry flight empty of passengers. Curious!

The problems at Geneva and Frankfurt, not always simultaneously, again showed the thoughtlessness of the Air Mauritius flight from Frankfurt to Mauritius via Geneva. Sometimes the one airport was operating but not the other one. Clearly, having to go to two different airports in winter and at night before heading off towards the sun, increases the odds of a problem. I would have thought it obvious that long distance intercontinental flighs should make a single stop, with passengers from other airports joining them there. Although I doubt that it will be admitted, there are clearly not enough passengers in the Geneva catchment area to justify the flightt as it used to be - Mauritius to Geneva to Mauritius - but Geneva airport management does not want to lose face by losing this flight.

There have also been four commercial flights operating after half past midnight, being justified because of the exceptional circumstances : two of easyJet and one each of Swiss and Austrian Airlines. However, the root cause of the those of easyJet stems from poor operating decisions, which depart from their normal principle of "there and back" flights using a fleet of identical aircraft.

The latest flight was the arrival, at 0h53 on 3 December, of the return from Porto of the single Airbus A320 of easyJet Switzerland. It was already very late leaving to go to Porto, but none of the fleet of Airbus A319 could replace it because they are too small.

The other late easyJet flight, a few minutes earlier on the same day,was the return from Berlin. This time it was a standard Airbus A319 which left for Berlin on time much earlier in the day. However, unlike all other easyJet Switzerland flights, while it was in Berlin it was scheduled for a trip to Amsterdam and back. Again, once this caused a delay, there was nothing that a spare plane in Geneva could do to help.

We informaticians like the KISS principle : Keep it Simple,Stupid.

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