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Clause 18 - Licence conditions

Part of Civil Aviation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 1:45 pm on 1st March 2012.

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Photo of Julie Hilling Julie Hilling Labour, Bolton West 1:45 pm, 1st March 2012

I agree absolutely. Some airline travellers are quite capable of sorting things out for themselves—regular travellers, who know how to rebook, where to go and get food, and what to do in such circumstances—but those who have medical needs, who are more vulnerable, or who are less frequent travellers need our support. There clearly needs to be a system in place for those people who need medical support. There must be channels of support for such people at times of disruption.

It is true that we all get those messages—we see them on the television or hear them on the radio—“Do not travel unless your journey is absolutely essential.” Unfortunately, we all believe that our journey is absolutely essential. People set out in their cars and other modes of transport when anyone who thought about it would not do so. Airports therefore face the difficulty of dealing with us when we believe that, even though it is really snowing or there is thick fog, our flight will still take off. Airports have to accommodate the fact that we are not always sensible. Living in a country that does not often have severe weather, we are perhaps slightly more naive about when we can travel and when we should not.

Going back to what happened during the winter problems, particularly at Heathrow—I acknowledge that other airports dealt much better with the weather—it is unacceptable for passengers to have such an experience. Not only is it unacceptable for them, but it is unacceptable for UK plc. Our airports are our gateway to the rest of the world. We need airports with first-world standards, not standards one would expect in a developing country.

There did not seem to be a huge amount of improvement at Heathrow this year. One day when there was a threat of snow, a quarter of the flights were cancelled. The report states that flights should be cancelled and information given in advance if such disruption is feared. Perhaps the Minister has better information than I do and will be able to respond, but four inches of snow were threatened. Given that we are supposed to have had all this great investment in snow clearing and everything else, cancelling a quarter of the flights feels to me like a knee-jerk reaction. I would be interested to hear whether that was the case.

Yes, airlines are responsible for the treatment of passengers, but it is not good enough for the different airports to have separate passenger welfare plans. A passenger needs to know what support they will get at any airport, because it is the airport, not the airline, that will be blamed if there are problems. Whether a passenger has booked with Virgin, bmi, or whoever, they will blame Heathrow, Manchester or Gatwick for their bad experience and lack of support, rather than the airline that should be providing that support. Airports clearly need the power and responsibility to have concerted passenger welfare plans, and the CAA needs the authority to ensure that those plans happen.