…plan to fail

Britain has been stuck in snow again and the tales of woe are enough to bring tears to all our eyes. One lady was telling us how disgraceful it was that her parents had to wait at the airport, at their old age. They were both 60! Ageism or what?

It brought back some memories I thought I would share with you.

Around 1970 my parents lived in Washington DC and I went to school in Holland. So twice a year my sisters and I would fly from Amsterdam to Washington, via Heathrow. There were no direct flights in those days and the flight via Heathrow became sort of a routine.

The routine was simple. We would fly Washington to Heathrow, get bussed from one dreadful terminal to another (no change there then), catch BEA (remember them?) to Amsterdam and the luggage would arrive a day or two later. It was always the same and had the distinct advantage you did not have to carry your luggage.

One winter we were circling above Heathrow for an hour or so only to be told the airport had closed due to the weather. Sound familiar? Don’t forget this is 40 years ago! We were diverting to Manchester.

We were flying TWA (remember them?). The cabin crew told us not to worry, that the ground crew would help us get to London. At 16 I was the oldest, I had a sister with me and two other kids, children of friends of my parents.

The ground crew was never found and nobody knew a thing (no change there either then). Manchester Airport was not equipped for all these flights in those days – it was a mess.
Eventually we found a coach to Heathrow, which turned out to be 4 hours away – we had no idea.

Arriving at Heathrow we found people sleeping on seats, on floors, in corridors, by exits, on desks. In fact the scene was very much like the scenes we see on television every day now minus the foil blankets or the mobile phones – they did not exist.

Eventually we got back to Amsterdam and our luggage followed a few days later as usual.

So what has changed? The airports got bigger, and busier and Manchester is equipped now to receive big flights.

Heathrow still has some of the most dreadful terminals known to the industry and it can still not deal with the vagaries of the weather.  No change there then.

I am sure there were reports done in 1970 about what should be done and how dreadful all this was and how it was hurting Enterprise Britain. Now, 40 years later, we are still commissioning reports on what should be done, bemoaning our fates, and etc, etc so we can shelve it all again until the next crisis.

And guess what? BAA is going to invest £15 million of its £1billion profit pool not only into some equipment, but also into training people how to use it. Brilliant or what? Let’s just hope the trained people do not leave BAA too soon so we are left with new untrained staff and some snow blowers nobody knows how to use.

It is a continuing story on our infrastructure. We react, we do not plan. It takes at least 10 years to plan, authorise and build a road. Reactive planning does not work in this kind of environment.

Perhaps I could ask this government to make one New Year’s resolution:

Plan ahead for the next 15 to 20 years and no more reactive policies.  

Oh, and while I am asking anyway – can you please start dealing with the future and stop blaming for previous government for everything? One day you are going to wake up and realise that you are also making lots of bad decisions. We already know!

Have a wonderful Christmas and a fantastic New Year.

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