Gatwick Airport boss apologises over Christmas Eve chaos

Crowds of travellers at Gatwick Airport
Image caption Departures were transferred to the south terminal after a power failure

The chief executive of Gatwick Airport has apologised to passengers after thousands of people had their Christmas travel plans disrupted.

Stewart Wingate admitted a lot more "could and should" have been done for customers after a power cut threw the airport into chaos on Christmas Eve.

He said the actions of bosses "fell short" and would have an impact on the airport's reputation.

The power cut happened after electricity sub-stations flooded.

The House of Commons Transport Committee heard how the airport had learned at 04:15 GMT on Christmas Eve that the River Mole would flood in half an hour.

It was expecting merely to have to contend with strong winds but the river burst its banks, flooding electricity sub-stations and causing a power cut at the north terminal.

Several thousand passengers were left stranded, with delays and dozens of flights cancelled.

All flights due to depart from the north terminal after 13:00 GMT were moved to the south terminal, apart from those from British Airways - but the moved flights were also delayed and others were cancelled.

'Step too far'

No trains ran to or from the airport for most of the day because of fallen trees on the line and disruption across the network, which caused a "massive queue" of people trying to leave the airport.

Passengers said they had not been given information about their flights or where they should go to.

EasyJet, one of the airlines caught up in the chaos, told the committee that only four buses had been available to ferry passengers between the north and south terminals.

Mr Wingate told the committee that the airport would have cancelled flights earlier had it not been Christmas Eve, with thousands of people anxious to get away for the festive season.

He said the "unprecedented" terminal switch had been a "step too far" and apologised to passengers, particularly those who had waited all day for their flight only to hear that it had been cancelled.

He told MPs the airport had been given a flight assessment in 2008 saying that the threat of a flood was far greater for the south terminal than the north terminal, with the north likely to be affected between once in 100 years and once every 1,000 years.

The assessment said that at the south terminal, a flood was likely to be a one-in-20-year event.

Mr Wingate said the estimates would have to be revised and many millions spent on contingency plans to ensure there was no repeat of the incident.

He said the flooding was the worst at Gatwick since 1967.

He told MPs: "We all decided we wanted to go the extra mile (to get people away for Christmas). It was a step too far.

"We did something with the best of intentions and we were partially successful. Half of the flights that had been due to depart from the north terminal did so and all the south terminal flights got away.

"We are very sorry about what happened to passengers."

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