Wednesday, December 23, 2009

ERM-BC-COOP: Trapped in trains and planes



Once again* our friends in the UK have proven that they still live in a "disaster recovery" mode. This time they partnered with their neighbors in France.

I realize it's not fair to paint all UK business continuity practitioners with the same brush; I personally know several who understand, and promote, complete risk management, including threat avoidance and mitigation. But I also recall that British Standard 25999 - at least in draft form - lacked any mention of "mitigation."

Recent articles, including "Chunnel train service suspended indefinitely" from the Dallas (TX) Morning News ( report that "passengers stayed underground for more than 15 hours without food or water, or any clear idea of what was going on.

"Services have been suspended since late Friday (18 December 2009), when a series of glitches stranded five trains inside the Channel Tunnel and trapped more than 2,000 passengers for hours in stuffy and claustrophobic conditions. More than 55,000 passengers have been affected" the article continued."

A New York Times article headlined "Eurostar Chief Vows to Resume Partial Service" ( quoted Aude Criqui, a spokeswoman for Eurostar (the company that runs the Chunnel train), as saying the company was working from the assumption that the sharp temperature difference between the cold outside and the relatively warm air inside the tunnel under the English Channel caused extreme condensation in critical electrical parts on the trains, resulting in electrical failure. All Eurostar trains are electric.


Once again, airline passengers in the US were trapped inside metal tubes - airplanes - for as much as 6 hours as weather delayed flights several times in 2009, most recently in late December.

Despite knowing the public relations fall out, airlines elected to keep passengers trapped on the tarmac for hours rather than return to the terminal or to move into a parking area where passengers could be off-loaded to ground transportation and returned to the terminal's warmth, food purveyors, and rest rooms.

As in the UK, some folks in the US fail to understand that while there is not much we can do about the weather, we can mitigate its impact on business. Do practitioners fail to recognize the possibilities, fear to raise the issue with management, or is it that management simply doesn't care (see comment by Air Transport Association President and CEO James May later in this exercise).

Unlike Europe and Japan, the US lacks a reliable and rapid rail system; airline execs are confident that no matter how badly passengers are treated they will continue to buy tickets.

A US federal law to take effect 1Q2010 mandates air carriers to allow passengers to escape confinement if a plane is between gate and wheels up for more than 3 hours. After two hours, the airlines will be required to provide food and water for passengers and to maintain operable lavatories. They must also provide passengers with medical attention when necessary, according to "Gov't imposes 3-hour limit on tarmac strandings," a Yahoo/Associated Press article (

Even now airlines face some consequences. According to the AP article, in November 2009, "the department fined Continental Airlines, ExpressJet Airlines and Mesaba Airlines $175,000 for their roles in a nearly six-hour tarmac delay in Rochester, Minn. In August, Continental Express Flight 2816 en route to Minneapolis was diverted to Rochester due to thunderstorms. Forty-seven passengers were kept overnight in a cramped plane because Mesaba employees refused to open a gate so that they could enter the closed airport terminal."

The AP story also noted that "The airline industry said it will comply with the regulations , but predicted the result will be more canceled flights, more inconvenience for passengers.

"The requirement of having planes return to the gates within a three-hour window or face significant fines is inconsistent with our goal of completing as many flights as possible. Lengthy tarmac delays benefit no one," said Air Transport Association President and CEO James May.

I'm not an airport planner, although I do have some flight line experience. I understand how some weather can cause a short tarmac delay and I understand that unless an airport is closed down - no arriving flights - gates must be available to load and discharge passengers. Can empty aircraft be parked away from the gates, freeing space to off-load passengers stuck on the tarmac? Can't passengers be bused from tarmac (or parking area) to and from the terminal as they are at Washington National?

Extended delays should not be tolerated. From an economic standpoint, keeping engines turning to provide power for lights and heat or air conditioning is an expense. Beyond that, air crews have maximum in-plane times before they are required to take time off. Finally, while passengers still may be obliged to fly from Point A to Point B, most can take their business to another airline, one with a better on-time image.

On a personal note, I was stranded on the ground at CVG for too many hours while DL tried to get a flight-worthy aircraft to the gate. DL "saved face" when around midnight, with the airport effectively shuttered, a couple of DL staff brought out carts loaded with junk food and drinks. That simple courtesy probably kept most of us booking with DL. On the other hand, a now defunct airline kept me on the tarmac for 3-plus hours and then, when finally airborne, lacked the special meal I ordered - and had confirmed at both ticket counter and with a flight attendant (stewardess).

* Reuters, 11 Aug. 2005: British Airways cancels 77 Heathrow flights; Carrier cites dispute between workers, management at catering firm ( and

John Glenn, MBCI
Enterprise Risk Management practitioner
Hollywood/Fort Lauderdale Florida
JohnGlennMBCI at gmail dot com
Seeking staff or staff consulting work in, or from, southeast Florida


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