Shame of ‘Third World’ Gatwick: U.S. owners face probe after airport leaves thousands stranded in squalor
- Airport was thrown into meltdown by power cut on Christmas Eve
- More than 100 flights were either cancelled or hugely delayed
- Passengers told of ‘Third World’ conditions after they were kept for up to 12 hours without heating, hot food or drink and with access to one toilet
Gatwick was facing a humiliating investigation last night after ruining Christmas for thousands of families.
The airport was thrown into meltdown by a power cut on Christmas Eve, with more than 100 flights either cancelled or hugely delayed.
Mutinous passengers told of ‘Third World’ conditions – they were left for up to 12 hours without heating, hot food or drink and had access to just one toilet.
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MPs demanded to know why the country’s second-biggest airport – which is owned by an American private equity firm – had been unable to cope with flooding.
They accused bosses at Global Infrastructure Partners of failing to invest at Gatwick while making bumper profits.
The Civil Aviation Authority was last night considering a full investigation into the mayhem, which comes just two months after another power cut caused chaos at the West Sussex airport.
It said it was already in touch with Gatwick chiefs and would be seeking a detailed report over ‘what could and should have happened’. With a flurry of compensation claims likely, the airport and the airlines were engaged in trying to shift the blame.
Pre-tax profits for Gatwick, which Global Infrastructure Partners bought for £1.46billion in October 2009, surged by 18 per cent to £127million in the first half of this year
Passengers at Gatwick were not the only victims of the 90mph Christmas storm:
- 300,000 people were left without power yesterday, with tens of thousands facing more days in the dark;
- Five people died in a series of car crashes and drownings;
- Dozens of families were evacuated from their flooded homes;
- Another storm was predicted on Friday with winds of up to 100mph.
Pre-tax profits for Gatwick, which Global Infrastructure Partners bought for £1.46billion in October 2009, surged by 18 per cent to £127million in the first half of this year. Global is also pitching for a £13billion investment to build a second runway.
John Mann, Labour chairman of the Treasury select committee, said: ‘It seems that this company has under-invested in contingency planning – despite raking in hundreds of millions of pounds of profits and ruining Christmas for hundreds of people.
‘It seems like they have been caught unprepared – and this is at a time when they are arguing for expansion.
‘What’s the point in expanding if they can’t cope with what they’ve already got? Some of these problems were entirely avoidable.’
Graham Stringer, a Labour member of the Commons transport select committee, said: ‘What this shows is that we need a lot more resilience in the system. We also need the company behind Gatwick to put some of the profits back into making sure that they can cope with unexpected weather events like this.’
The Civil Aviation Authority, which regulates airports, said Gatwick could now face an investigation and a fine if it is deemed to have failed passengers.
A woman waits at the airport with her baby (left) and police try to calm agitated passengers down (right)
A spokesman said it was awaiting reports from the airport and airlines involved, adding: ‘We may look at how the airport and airlines, which have a duty to look after passengers, were prepared. We will certainly look at those issues.’
But he stressed that it was the airlines who had a duty to look after their passengers in such a crisis.
One senior airline executive, whose flights were badly hit, said: ‘Questions have got to be asked about Gatwick’s resilience to flooding. They knew from early morning there was a problem but kept saying the power would be back on. It wasn’t.
‘It was frustrating for passengers to see airport staff heading off as they were left stranded. They should have ensured they had more people.’
A Gatwick spokesman apologised to passengers, saying anti-flood work was in hand but the weather conditions had been extreme.