Last Friday night, thousands of passengers and high volumes of cargo stranded at Frankfurt Rhine-Main Airport. The reason was an overzealous interpretation of the night flight ban by the local authorities.
“Travel like a celebrity” is a promotional slogan standing on Frankfurt operator Fraport’s site. Friday night, 7,000 air travelers felt more as being treated like dogs because authorities
responsible for ensuring that air traffic complies with the flight curfew have interpreted the existing regulation very restrictively. Instead of reacting appropriately to unusual weather
conditions, there were a number of severe thunderstorms hitting Frankfurt, disrupting air traffic, causing many delays they ordered 25 aircraft back to the gate, denying the affected carriers a
special permission to take off after midnight.
Thousands spent the night on stretchers and benches
When docking at the terminals many passengers protested heavily against the relevant authorities who cancelled the flights, ordering the aircraft back to the gates. While disembarking, many passengers were furious, rebelling loudly against the “absurd night flight ban” crippling operations at central Europe’s largest airport to the detriment of travelers. In a release issued on Saturday, Fraport managers even speak of “major resistance” exercised by individuals after local service personnel informed them that transit passengers having no German visa could not be accommodated in nearby hotels. Instead, they had no alternative but to spend the night on camp beds or on seats within the terminals. This, because they were not permitted to leave FRA’s security area. Among the stranded were many families with small children that had bought tickets eager to fly to their holiday destinations.
Fraport officials react shocked
Extremely annoyed reacted Fraport executive board member Anke Giesen to the bureaucratic handling of the curfew by the responsible authorities, demanding a modified night flight regime in case of extreme weather situations or other unusual circumstances. She said that all 25 aircraft that had to roll back to the gates were already standing in line on the taxiways ready for takeoff. However, since lightning and heavy rainfall caused the interruption of start procedures several times, the aircraft finally missed their slots and were ordered back to the gates. Stated an angered Mrs Giesen: “In view of these extraordinary circumstances I would have wished a more flexible and situation appropriate air traffic management by the authorities in charge,” she stated. “Prolonging the operational time by only 30 more minutes would have sufficed to get all 25 planes airborne,” she snapped.
“Particularly our international guests responded with sheer incomprehension and harsh criticism to this disproportionate action caused by the authorities, which lacks any international standards in treating air travelers.”
FRA’s reputation is suffering
Having said this she expressed her concern that word is spread and passengers, particularly those who are transiting will increasingly avoid using Frankfurt in fear of stranding there.
The same accounts for cargo agents who are facing a disruption of supply chains in case their goods get stuck in FRA as result of a restrictive night flight ban interpretation.
The Greens object to a modified night flight ruling
Meanwhile State Secretary Mathias Samson of the Hesse State’s Transport Ministry, run by the Green Party expressed his regret that thousands stranded at FRA last Friday night. However, in the same breath he declared that despite harsh weather conditions the official zoning decision does not permit delayed flight operations later than midnight. Frankfurt’s operating permit does not allow any exceptions, he said.
An idiosyncratic interpretation of the rules. Instead of changing them, allowing authorities to handle weather-related traffic disruptions appropriately, he stubbornly defends the current scheme.
It’s time that operator Fraport, airlines, aviation associations and handling agents remind Mr Samson that Rhine-Main airport is by far Hesse state’s largest tax payer and number one employer.