01/21/2013

Snow blocks the airport again

Despite the optimism of the airport spokesman, and mostly unreported, the snow last Saturday afternoon caused chaos at the airport


Yet again I find myself irritated by the fact that snow and the airport don't mix very well, but yet this fact seems rarely to be reported. If there are problems with the Geneva public transport system (TPG), or the Swiss railways (CFF), these problems often go straight onto the newspaper front pages and the radio and TV news programmes. However, the three hour closure of the airport last Saturday afternoon, 19 January, and the after effects (cancellations, rerouting and flights delayed until well after midnight) received almost no media coverage. As a result, it would have been hard for anyone to know of the problems.

I did worry when I read on Friday morning in the freebie "20 Minutes" that the indefatigable airport spokesperson, Bernard Stämpfli, declared the airport as being ready to face snowfalls. On Saturday morning he stated that the airport had worked overnight from midnight to 6am to clear the runway. I rather regarded these optimistic declarations as tempting fate: it turned out that fate had the last word.

The airport was closed for 3 hours from 5pm to 8pm on the Saturday, meaning that large numbers of incoming flights had to be cancelled or rerouted. Lyon was the most popular rerouting destination (I bet that there were a lot of bus journeys from Lyon to Geneva in the evening!), followed by Zurich and Basel, but there were several other destinations.

As far as I can tell, the only report of this has been (again) in 20 Minutes of Monday, January 21 (but they got the closure hours wrong!). According to Bernard Stämpfli, a lot of snow had fallen in a short time, so that it was not possible to ensure the safety of air traffic. No doubt true, but 3 hours is quite a long time to be closed.

Equally, according to Bernard Stämpfli, about 50 flights had been cancelled. He might have only been talking about departures, for which there were just over 50 cancellations in the day, but there were also about the same number of arrival flights also cancelled. There were, of course, then many greatly delayed flights, so that after midnight there were 9 takeoffs and four landings to keep the nearby residents aware that there had been problems.

Such a chaotic day means that aircraft are not always where they should be the following day: easyJet Switzerland had to fly empty aircraft back to Geneva from Basel, London Gatwick and Birmingham. This had a knock-on effect of having to cancell three "there and back" flights on the Sunday evening. Adding in the other problems all over Europe (including the United Kingdom!) meant that many flights were also cancelled yesterday, Sunday 20 January.

By today, most things in Geneva ought to be back more or less to normal, but according to Bernard Stämpfli, as quoted in 20 Minutes, all persons who have a flight today should check in advance if it has been cancelled. I am not sure to whom he has distributed this pearl of wisdom, but I don't find it on the airport Web site.

Perhaps airport communication via their Web site, might one day carry this sort of advice!

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