shit happens, but how to deal with it when it does?
Of course, everyone who frequently has to fly to an island destination like Madeira knows that there is such a thing as Madeira Flight Cancellations. Not pleasant, but this is a mountainous island and, coming from the wrong direction, it takes only about 18 knots, that is a low Force 5, to prevent planes from landing in Madeira. Though old stories about Madeira having one of the most dangerous runways in the world keep circulating in the internet, this really belongs to a distant past. The last accident in this airport, the only fatal accident in TAP’s history, occurred in 1977, when the runway was only about 1600 meters long. Following this accident, the runway was extended in two fases and is now a safe 2781 meters. Though extending the runway has made Madeira Airport quite safe, this has not been able to prevent Madeira flight cancellations. The high mountains of Madeira will always be causing wind shear in certain conditions, and for our own safety this will continue to cause disruptions in the Madeira air traffic.
What tactics are used by the airlines in case of an airport disruption?
At the first sign of adverse weather, the aircraft in approach are told to wait in a waiting area, usually between Porto Santo and Madeira. They will keep circling until there is a window in the weather allowing them to land. Obviously, it is the strict safety regulations that determine if an aircaft can be cleared to land. Finally, it is the decision of the flight crews wether or not they will actually land. It will be clear that it will never be a pilot’s choice to cause a flight cancellation by not landing if the plane is cleared to land an landing is at all possible.
different airlines, different tactics
However, we see great differences in how the airline companies deal with adverse weather conditions in Madeira. As we see more air traffic disruptions lately, doubtlessly caused by climate change, we see that different companies have different tactics when these occur. Some try to land at the nearby airport of sister island Porto Santo. But this has two problems. First, the small airport capacity. When there are 6 planes parked, there is no more space. Second the transport of the passengers to Madeira depends on the fickle ways of the ferry. the ferry is in the hands of Madeira’s sea transport monopolist Grupo Sousa, and it does as it pleases. There is the problem of getting the passengers leaving on the same plane as well, there is no way to get them to Porto Santo unless the airline company charters the ferry to do an extra return trip. Acually, easyJet hos done this a couple of times. But it is not a really sustainable choice, because of the small capacity and the lack of a fast and frequent ferry service. So, many companies decide to continue to one of the Canary Islands, which have a large capacity in hotel rooms to put the passengers up for the night they will have to spend there. The TAP and easyJet flights from the Portuguese mainland invariably return to the airport they came from.
persistence, or the lack of it.
Having said all this, we can see a big difference in the persistence of airlines to keep trying to land. Of course, the quantity of fuel determines for how long a plane can circle before it has to divert. But as we can see when we watch the flight paths of a flight waiting to land (an app or website like FlightRadar24 is invaluable for us who have to pick up friends or family from the airport regularly) We can see what planes are actually doing in real time, where they are inclining speed and altitude. This brings me to yesterday’s flight cancellations. Where the weather forecast predicted strong winds and heavy rain, we held our breath as Julien, a member of our ‘extended family’ needed to come to Madeira on an extremely short visit, arriving with one of the morning flights and returning on an afternoon TAP flight to Lisbon. We had already warned him of the conditions, but he landed on time, like a number of other flights. As it was important for him to return to Lisbon on the same day, we kept our fingers crossed. We watched the planes attempting to land, many circled for quite a while waiting for a weather window. Not TAP. It had to fly one circle to allow another flight to leave, then came in for landing, aborting to do a go around, but instead of being patient and trying again it returned to Lisbon immediately. As I had kept a close eye on this flight, I made a screenshot to inform Julien who was at the airport, waiting, and – as usual – was being kept uninformed of TAP’s decision to direct the plane back to Lisbon, thus cancelling his flight. .
As the above images show, TAP did very little effort to land Other flights, like the SATA flight from Ponta Delgada in the Azores, was more patient and finally did manage to land. The overview of yesterday’s incoming flights, taken from the ana.pt airport website shows, that shortly before and after TAP flight TP1689 returned to Lisbon, other flights did manage to land just fine. We think that maybe TAP needed the plane back in Lisbon for another flight, putting their interests above that of the passengers. But there is no way to check this easily.
How do airlines look after their passengers in case of air traffic disruptions?
The way the different companies look after their stranded passengers at the small Madeira airport varies a lot. We remember friends getting stranded at the airport in a similar situation. First they were our elderly Dutch friends returning home after a stay with us. The Tap flight was cancelled. They have been kept standing in a line for 11 hours, before finally getting on a flight to Lisbon at 21.00 hours. No seating, no food, no drinks and no information. Then they had to spend the night in a Lisbon hotel. Fortunately they were compensated with dinner vouchers. Want to know where? Burger King. Then, there were our Scottish friends returning to Edinburg on the same day as our Dutch friends with an EasyJet flight. Within the hour after the flight diverted, they were lazing next to the pool of a luxury hotel in Funchal, enjoying a glass of bubbles courtesy of easyJet. We see that the national Portuguese carrier really could not care less about their passengers. Another friend of ours left after a stay with us when her Transavia flight to Madeira was cancelled. She was put into a luxury hotel as well after not too long a wait. So the differences are very big. Julien, who tried to get back to Lisbon yesterday was kept waiting for over an hour before getting any information, when we knew from watching FlightRadar24 that the plane was already halfway back to Lisbon. We feel this is a complete disrespect to paying passengers. If I can see that the plane is not coming in, anyone can, and they should inform the passengers accordingly. As I was steaming by then, I started to use Twitter to demand information. They do not like that at all, as the whole world can read it. I received a very standard and evading answer, and after insisting they went silent. What I did receive in my chat program on Facebook was – quite irritating – a TAP advert telling me to give a TAP travel voucher to my loved ones. I think not, and I told them ‘to f*ck off’, as you can see. We are dealing with Madeira flight cancellations. Not with helping TAP’s sales.
After over an hour, Julien told me that he received a message from TAP telling him he was booked on tomorrow morning’s 08.45 flight. Fortunately, he had another reservation on an evening flight last night, which he could not change and therefore bought an extra ticket for an earlier one. In the meantime, I checked if there were other flights yesterday, and if there were seats available. The TAP website said there were no seats available. Still, I told him to try and get on the waiting list of the 18.05 flight, provided it would land. Just then, he had thought of that as well and lo and behold: he had a seat on that flight which subsequently landed. And now to the biggest fail of TAP: That flight, TP1686, left for Lisbon, he was on board, but half the seats were unoccupied. We know of other friends who were booked on the cancelled flight as well, that they were forced to wait until this morning before they could leave. It gets worse. TAP Flight 1688, leaving for Lisbon at 21.50 last evening, left partially empty as well, as confirmed by a good friend who works at the Airport of Madeira. He knows exactly what happens in case of Madeira flight cancellations,
so what to do in case of Flight Cancellations?
Do never doubt that coming to this island, in spite of more or les regular Madeira flight cancellations, is worthwile. It is a lovely island, very mountainous which makes for a spectacular scenery. But these mountains do cause flight disruptions every now and then. If this happens to you – and you can see the signs in the weather if this becomes likely – take your precautions. Take some packed sandwiches with you, as there may be a long wait before you are being taken care of. Also, have a charged phone or tablet, so that you have access to the internet The airport offers free WiFi. Check for other flights of the same company and try to get your booking altered if your flight is cancelled.
So why did they not offer this possibility to the TAP passengers who found their flight cancelled?
It is obvious that Ground Force, the company who has to deal with passengers and luggage on the ground, does what the airline tells them to do. Understandably, they are flooded in case of any Madeira flight cancellations and they can only do what the airline tells them to do. As TAP did not tell Groundforce to start booking passengers for the empty seats on the two remaining Lisbon flights, they did not offer that possibility. Shame on TAP. Not an unsafe company at all, but very, very unorganised. They probably suffer from a very, very bad case of pre-revolution hierarchy-ism that encourages bosses to bully staff, and causes staff to not take any initiatives.
And all the time the passengers affected due to their flight being cancelled were waiting for information that took a very long time to come, this was their irritating view. I would have raged. Especially while this is a situation that occurs rather regularly. They act as if it is a very new situation. They have no clue as how to deal with. Of course it is a big TAP fail, but also a big fail of the airport, which is now proudly called Aeroporto Internacional da Madeira Christiano Ronaldo.
We have been renting out our house in summer, and offering B&B in winter since 2009, so we have always kept our eyes wide open concerning flights to Madeira and disruptions. Over the last 10 years we have seen that Madeira flight cancellations have slightly increased over time. A more significant change is the way these air traffic disruptions have been spread over the seasons. These airport problems really used to be a thing for winter, but over the last couple of years we see this happening in summer as well, due to more extreme weather. There is nothing you can do to prevent your flight from being cancelled due to adverse weather conditions. The one thing you can do to at least lower the chance of your flight being cancelled for other reasons than bad weather is to always book your flight with a reliable company. People who saw their flights cancelled due to the bankruptcy of Thomas Cook, Monarch or Air Berlin have often not been paying attention to the news. If you have the slightest suspicion, check the internet about negative news before deciding where to book your flights. Also, check the track records of the companies you can choose from for how they look after their passengers in case there is a problem. TAP definitely has a bad track record, easyJet and Transavia have a decent one, and it is fortunate we have no Ryanair here because they have the worse track record of all, I think. Check before you book.
Flew with Ryanair on May 7 ex Dublin to Funchal. Diverted back to Lisbon Sun night. Offered a hotel for what would be 3 hours. Stayed at the airport instead for 6am flight. Ryanair couldn’t get a slot till 11am – confirmed by crew on the plane. Left at 11.15. Arrived Funchal circa 1pm. Diverted back to Lisbon again. Offered a choice of staying on the plane while being refuelled or disembarking. A few git off. Flew again circa 3.30. Circled Funchal a Flew times and finally landed at 5.30 despite high winds. Ryanair staff were superb. Was expecting Ryanair to simply cancel the flight but kudos to them.
Now enjoying Funchal
I always marvel at people moaning about Ryanair. We have used a number of l, their Funchal connections since they started their FNC operations. Always works well and always on time if there are no adverse conditions. I noticed that the moaners expect to treated like royalty but want to pay the absolute minimum. I tthink it is a good thing Ryanair came to Madeira, with affordable connections and bringing quite some employment to the island.
Thanks for the info.
By any chance, do you have any records of the months when these disruptions are likely to occur?
Difficult to say. Of course, the winter months January and February have a higher occurrance of the problem, but it really can happen anytime. We have seen April with a lot of disruptions, and January with none at all. So you have to trust your luck on this. In all the years I have travelled to and from the island, I only once saw my flight divert to Porto Santo, and that was only for 45 minutes, after which it took of again for Madeira. Last time we travelled back to the Netherlands, our flight was delayed for two hours. That’s all I ever saw.
I noted your comments regarding an Edinburgh flight, to my knowledge only Jet2 fly to Edinburgh – was it Jet2, not EasyJet that arranged 5 star accommodation in Funchal?
Thanks for pointing this out, you are correct. I will have to check with my friends that had this experience. I seem to remember that there used to be easyJet flights from Edinburgh to Funchal, and their adventure occurred a couple of years ago. So maybe I am wrong and it was a flight to Gatwick. Whatever it was, it was an easyJet flight to the UK. One way or another, I will find out with my friends and correct the article acordingly,
Great and informative article Peter, thank you
Interesting article, you don’t mention Jet2 who I thought had a good record?
Hi Shimmy, thank you for that. As I replied to Patricia below, I have no personal knowledge of all airline companies offering connections to Madeira. So if you have good experiences with Jet2, perfect, they may have good track records. I base my article on personal experiences of myself, friends, family or our B&B guests that travel to and from Madeira. My article reflects those experiences but does not at all wish to exclude other relevant experiences.
After TAP, easyJet are the most likely to cancel flights in adverse weather conditions. We were stranded at Gatwick over Christmas a few years ago when our easyJet flight was cancelled on Christmas Eve and there were no flights on Christmas Day. On that occasion all the other airlines’ flights were able to land successfully. This happened again last Christmas with flights cancelled the day before and no àlternative available for several days. We would never choose easyJet at Christmas. Jet2 or BA are much more reliable.
You are quite correct. We saw that easyJet cancelled a number of flights to Madeira on last monday, probably as a precaution. TAP did not, actually all flights from Porto and Lisbon to Madeira left, but some (I think two, acually) returned to the Mainland. Of course it is very annoying if any airliner cancels flights offering no alternative, but the real issue really is the way the passengers are taken care of when such a thing happens. I have no personal experience with Jet2 nor British Airways, as I travel between Madeira and the Netherlands or Belgium, even sometimes Germany. So my thoughts are based on either my personal experiences or my friends’or family members’experiences on which we keep a very close eye when the are traveling to come and see us, or returning home after a visit. Also we watch the flights used by paying guests who use our B&B service. So, we know the general trends, but do not presume to know the behaviour of all airlines. I do think, that we all together do have the knowledge to tell the good ones from the bad ones. But really, I hope some PR-officers of the ones with a less than good track record read this and improve the way they take care of their passengers. That is really what my article is all about.
Are there not EU rules over compensation for delayed flights due to things like only having one plane available and if there are mechanical troubles which delays the flight by +/- 6 hours?? We are having troubles with SATA from Boston.
There certainly are rules Karen, I would not know if those are EU defined or IATA defined. I do know that there are services who can take care of your claim on a no-cure-no-pay basis. When my Tweet to TAP remained (and still remains) unanswered, they were quick to reply. It is a company with the meaningful web address click2refund.com. Here is the image of their Tweet:
Over 20 of annual March visits I have been “storm stayed ” only twice. Once put up in a nice hotel in Garajau, once in a rather grotty place in the Lido. My main beef if the lack of info, which means you are left sitting (if you’re lucky!) at the airport for hours and hours, with the info boards saying new info shortly – when it never is, and when you can see from flight radar that nobody is going anywhere. Not TAP, but airlines like Monarch that are no longer with us. tAt the , where Marears of annula
You are absolutely right, Frances, it is the lack of information, which I tend to translate into a complete disdain towards the paying passengers, that is the most irritating. The airlines can’t help the weather, but they should get their act together in case of disruptions. I think something went wrong when you wrote your comment. If you send me an email using the information on the contact page, I can add the missing part.
I have used SATA for the past few years and the few times we have had flight disruptions due to weather (in Azores on way to Madeira and in Porto on way to Azores) we were taken care of immediately…put up in good hotels, given dining room meals, and regular status updates were provided. Fortunately my travel schedule was flexible but even if not, travellers felt that they were being treated fairly and respectfully. One thing I have learned is not to plan an itinerary so tight that it doesn’t allow for some sort of weather disruption.
You are absolutely right in stating you should allow for adverse weather, especially if you are flying to or from Madeira. The issue here is, indeed, not the fact that there are disruptions caused by adverse weather. As I wrote: shit happens. But it’s the way the airlines deal with the consiquences that is the issue. Tap – and all others – should start appreciating that passengers have many ways of getting information and they absolutely hate being lied to or being ignored. And shame on TAP for keeping passengers stranded where they let two flights go to Lisbon frum Fuunchal half empty.
Well done. A very detailed report.
I can’t agree about Ryanair being so bad. Over the years I have flown with them many times. Mostly to Ireland from UK and Portugal mainland. Everything has always been good, never suffered a problem.
All the airlines suffer the problem that today passengers can see exactly what the situation is with their flights. They still do not have a system in place to combat this. So they just simply lie to the clients. As 90% simply accept what they are told. I had a big fight with Monarch a few years ago, which I won. I knew what their problem was, I collected evidence and confronted them with it. All the time from the CEO down they just denied everything and lied. Probably trained by Trump 😉
Keep up the good work.
Thank you, Richard, very kind. I am pleased to hear you had good experiences with Ryanair. I have used them a lot in the past going to and fro from the Netherlands to Madeira, flying from Eindhoven to Stansted in the evening and then on to Madeira in the early moring. Haven’t done that lately since easyJet stopped the Stansted to Madeira connection. But in all fairness, I never had problems with Ryanair either. They do have a bad press though, but on the other hand, they are very cheap and you can’t and should not expect the same as from an expensive national carrier. But it’s true that people just let the airlines get away with not looking after their passengers. The biggest issue at FNC is that neither TAP nor GroundForce in Madeira seem to learn. It’s not that this situatiion never occurs. They still act as if it’s completely new to them. Too little staff to deal with the hundreds of standed passengers. Julien who was trying to get to Lisbon told me they had police officers present to keep agressive passengers at bay. Pasasengers getting agressive is no big surprise. If you don’t inform them properly and don’t look after them, it’s what you can expect.