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Aviation: No snow in Finland

Another interesting story has cropped up. Short trips to Finland to see Santa Claus in a suitably seasonal setting are popular throughout December and up to year end. But so far this winter there has been very little snow in Lapland and the limited amount that had accumulated was washed away by rain last weekend. Desperate measures have been employed to try to restore the scenes and keep the magic alive, including the use of snow cannons to create artificial white-stuff, but to no avail. It's unseasonably warm in Finland at the moment and despite the best efforts of the locals everything they tried melted. That caused tour operators to evaluate whether their next few pre-Christmas flights to the region should still take place, and resulted in both Transun and TUI advising customers that trips booked over the next few days won't go ahead.

Unlike other years, this winter there has been very little snow in Finland so far. (photo: flightlog)

Transun cancelled a flight from Newcastle to Finland that was due to depart on December 2, saying that its decision had not been taken lightly. The firm added: "it is our belief that we should only operate departures when we are confident we can provide an enjoyable holiday... we fully understand the disappointment caused (particularly for the children), but maintain that causing disappointment by cancelling a holiday is less worse than operating a below-par holiday at the expense of the customer."

Snow is indeed an important part of the expectation with these trips. Even so, when Transun informed a Birmingham family that their visit to Enontikio in Lapland was being called off with only one day's notice (the tour operator offered a refund or an alternative date) and explained why, the children were said to be devastated.

Despite the less than idyllic conditions Thomas Cook elected to plough on. A customer who flew from East Midlands Airport to Lapland on November 30 for a three-night visit with his family criticised the firm for refusing to allow him to postpone the trip due the lack of snow. A spokesman for the firm said trips were still taking place as "all activities were going ahead." Meanwhile, the family said the holiday was appalling because they "ended up having to ride a snowmobile across a muddy field."

Lose-lose for the airlines

The Aviation Oracle understands what Christmas, Santa Claus, reindeer and snow mean, especially to children. But once Mother Nature intervened unfavourably, the situation was always going to be a lose-lose for the airline industry. Some families will want to go regardless, while others will want to postpone until the conditions are more favourable. The problem for airlines is that most of the cost of flying an aircraft to Finland and back is incurred irrespective of how many passengers are on board - fuel costs much the same, landing fees are based on aircraft weights and staff costs are still incurred. Allowing some customers to defer their trips, but then operating an aircraft half full with those on board who elected to travel, is a recipe for big losses. Clearly the firms had to make a choice in each case - go or cancel - and the decisions were almost certainly not going to suit everyone involved.

It's difficult to see what can be done to avoid the same problem arising again as these trips are always going to be subject to the vagaries of the weather. It may well end up coming down to adding a clause into the contract that says something like "we reserve the right to cancel your trip if we decide the weather isn't suitable." That won't prevent disappointment, but it might temper the resulting complains on social media.

Text © The Aviation Oracle

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