August 31, 2006

World’s travel chaos remembered

Reader Brian Doyle, writes:

I just read the story about Simon Fraser University Pipe Band’s instruments missing on their way back to Vancouver this year. Well, it has now happened to another band and that is no surprise to myself or the Canberra Burns Club Pipe Band that I am with here in Australia.

In 2004 we had 94 members and family from the Canberra Burns Club Pipe Band travelling to the World pipe band championships in Glasgow. Band members and family flew out of Canberra, Australia, on Tuesday, August 3, 2004, on a domestic flight to Melbourne to connect with a British Airways flight to London and than a domestic flight up to Glasgow.

On a fuel-stop at Singapore for one-hour passengers were allowed to disembark and have a look around the Singapore airport. When all the passengers had boarded the aircraft for the next part of there journey to London problems started to appear. The air-conditioning on the aircraft would not work until we took off, which meant that after the plane doors were shut the passengers would be sitting in an oven with no breeze in temperatures well above 44 degrees.

To make things worse there were a dozen other aircraft taking off ahead of the flight that the pipe band was on, so that meant waiting on the taxiway for about 30 to 40 minutes. This was not pleasant at all.

Finally the Canberra Burns Club Pipe Band had arrived in London Heathrow at about 6 a.m. on Wednesday, August 4, after flying for 26 hours from Canberra via Melbourne to London.

On arrival in London the 96 members had to make their way to BA domestic terminal for the flights to Glasgow. With the group being so large, we were split into three groups to get us on to three different flights. The first 34 members were on the 8:30 a.m. flight, the next group was on the 9:30 a.m. flight and the last group was on the 11 a.m. flight, all flying to Glasgow. As the group of 94 members started to arrive at the domestic terminal at Heathrow they could all see something was truly wrong: lots of people, but no planes moving.

Most flights were cancelled except the 8:30 a.m. flight. Leaving 30 minutes late, the first group of 34 band members got away.

By 9:30 the unthinkable had happened. All original BA domestic flights were cancelled and everybody would have to line up with thousands more people to re-book their flights. The tour group leader of the pipe band (myself) lined up for an hour and, finally getting to talk to the BA staff, was promised that the remaining 60 of the group would be on the 12:30 p.m. flight out.

By 11:45 a.m. that flight was cancelled and the story went on until 5:00 p.m. that afternoon. By then, the 60 band members were told that they would not be travelling at all that day and had to stay in the airport lounge until morning to see if they could get the 60 band members out the next day. They were then also told that it could take two days to leave. All this was caused by storms a few days before the band had arrived at Heathrow, and BA had sad it was a natural disaster to cover themselves.

Here were the 60 Canberra Burns Club Pipe Band stuck in London: no baggage, no one by now had slept for at 42 hours, since it takes so long to fly from Australia to Britain. We were told to sleep on the floor of Terminal 1 at Heathrow. By about 8 p.m. after 14 hours at the airport they said to BA that they would have to find a Hotel or something so the members found a hotel in central London, with no help at all from BA.

By the next morning the band’s plight had hit the headlines in the papers in Scotland and England. Also, the first group that got to Glasgow the day the band had arrived was without luggage. By 4 p.m. on Thursday, August 5, all of the rest of the group had arrived at Glasgow Airport, but also without luggage.

It took nearly two weeks for all of the members of the Canberra band and families to receive their instruments and luggage. The Grade 2 and Grade 4 bands missed out on playing in two competitions before the World’s and practice because of no Instruments and the last of the luggage and instruments arrived three days before the World’s.


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