Christmas is near. You can see it all around you. High streets are draped with sparkling light displays, shops are starting to spew out Yuletide classics, and – thank heavens – you can find mulled wine almost anywhere.
But, as an expat, Christmas comes with an impending sense of doom. If I’m to spend the holiday with family (Dad is 6,000 km away), I’ll have to pack myself a carry-on – having learned years ago that a checked bag at Christmas is a lost one – and squeeze into an overstuffed pre-holiday airport. To say the least, it’s rarely been a smooth experience, and certainly never a pleasant one.
Last year, an eight-day sun-filled holiday to Cuba became four, as Heathrow shut for five days, cancelling 4,000 flights. And, those four days I did have on the beaches of Castro’s Caribbean were mostly spent in a mojito-induced coma, in an attempt to unwind from the stress of endless hours surrounded by agitated foreigners waving their screaming babies at the check-in staff.
Across the English Channel, Paris was just as bad. Paris Charles De Gaulle has a smattering of closures throughout the month, including around Christmas Day. Though, thankfully its roof didn’t collapse again, like it did in 2004.
But, this isn’t really a global epidemic. Chicago O’Hare has de-icing down to a science – they’re not afraid of a little winter time precipitation. In Winnipeg, my hometown, I swear I’ve landed into snow drifts.
Heathrow’s 2010 Christmas killing blunder ended in an inquiry (in fact a former head of the Winnipeg Airport was on the panel). Who was to blame? The airlines blamed the British Airport Authority. They were too slow and didn’t have the right equipment. The BAA just didn’t really seem too bothered, with the big boys behind them. David Cameron called Heathrow’s closure, “understandable,” given the amount of snow.
But, I don’t buy it. Winnipeg has an average of 26cm of snowfall in December; London has just over 8cm.
Sure, last December, Moscow’s Domodedovo airport, had to close at Christmas too. But, that was only after such a heavy snow that two electricity substations had been knocked out. 2010 wasn’t the best year overall. The eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in April disrupted air traffic all over Europe. That was a bit of an overreaction, but admittedly, it had caught us by surprise.
Snowfall in December, on the other hand, is far more predictable. And, if it seems new to the UK, there are hundreds of cities to look to for advice, from Anchorage to Zurich.
This year, my flight is on the 23rd from London to Istanbul, for a bit of a change of scene and an easier time getting dinner reservations on the 25th. At just over a month away, I already have a knot growing in my stomach.