Travellers given a helping hand

21st July 2003, Comments 0 comments

As the shockwaves from the terrorist attacks in the US reverberated around the world, many stranded travellers at Schiphol airport were being cared for by willing strangers. Aaron Gray-Block reports.

The recent crisis at Schiphol airport involving thousands of stranded travellers has left US-born expatriate Jim Bows with memories of "the most self-fulfilling days of my life".

"They restored my faith in humankind," he says.

Strange words considering the terrorist attacks on the US last week - which saw the World Trade Centre collapse into rubble, a plane crash into the Pentagon and a fourth hijacked plane crash near Pittsburgh - had seen Schiphol overflow with people in need of urgent help.

But having woken on Wednesday with a feeling of hopelessness, Bows went to work assisting the stranded travellers, whom had seen their flights cancelled after the decision by the Federal Aviation Authority to close US airspace in the wake of the terrorist attacks.

Several days later, Bows - who has lived in the Netherlands for nine years - had seen 63 stranded travellers accommodated with willing strangers; five mobile phones loaned to his volunteer team by WorldCom to allow travellers to phone home; and shower facilities offered by hotels such as the Hilton and the Dorint.

A team of up to 20 volunteers had also worked tirelessly around the clock at Schiphol providing comfort and a feeling of safety to travellers forced to wait. These efforts ranged from an offering of air mattresses to an elderly woman cooking soup in her own kitchen to feed stranded and tired travellers.

And some of these travellers, Jim says, included a woman who was five-months pregnant. She had slept two nights on a chair. There was also the elderly couple, both aged in their 80s, spending the night sleeping on cardboard boxes at Schiphol plaza.

He says many of the stranded travellers were not well-off business people who could afford hotels, taxis and restaurant food, but were travellers coming home from long trips, many of whom were starting to run short of money.

They were among the 7,000 people stranded after KLM and other airlines grounded all flights to the US and Canada.

Most of the stranded Dutch travellers had returned to their homes, leaving about 2,000 others to fend for themselves, about 800 of whom were taken to refugee shelters, while others were said to have found accommodation in hotels.

A KLM spokesman, Hugo Baas, says the Dutch airline had looked after its passengers as best it could and claims the airline had been widely complimented for its efforts to not only re-route people back to their original destinations, but to re-schedule flights to the US, Canada and the Middle East and to accommodate people in communal shelters.

Baas says a fantastic relationship between passengers and KLM staff had been created during last week's crisis.

He says any criticism levelled at KLM about the crisis is a "bullish" story without any truth. He says KLM responded to the crisis with everything it had.

He also denies accusations KLM unduly inconvenienced passengers by offering two flights to the US on Thursday night last week, flights that were eventually cancelled about 11pm.

KLM had been forced to re-cancel the flights - offered to 681 people, many of whom were children, the elderly or people who feared a friend or family member had been killed in the terrorist attacks - after the US had closed its airspace a second time following the FBI's arrest of 10 terrorist suspects at US airports.

"It was a country in crisis," Baas says.

"People understood the possibility of risk."

All KLM flights have now been resumed.

But Baas says the terrorist attacks on the US were a disaster that "came upon us" and that the entire airline industry was disrupted by the tragedy as thousands of passengers returned to the airport rather than flowing onto intended destinations.

He does not deny some aspects of KLM's crisis management were not perfect.

"Of course things went wrong - there were humans at work," he says.

He also disbelieves people were left stranded without money, refuting claims people did not have money for such things as luggage storage and he says that people who did not stay at the shelter centres had decided to do so of their own accord.

ica.com/photos/radA2CB5.jpg" border="0" >

The recent crisis at Schiphol airport involving thousands of stranded travellers has left US-born expatriate Jim Bows with memories of "the most self-fulfilling days of my life".

"They restored my faith in humankind," he says.

Strange words considering the terrorist attacks on the US last week - which saw the World Trade Centre collapse into rubble, a plane crash into the Pentagon and a fourth hijacked plane crash near Pittsburgh - had seen Schiphol overflow with people in need of urgent help.

But having woken on Wednesday with a feeling of hopelessness, Bows went to work assisting the stranded travellers, whom had seen their flights cancelled after the decision by the Federal Aviation Authority to close US airspace in the wake of the terrorist attacks.

Several days later, Bows - who has lived in the Netherlands for nine years - had seen 63 stranded travellers accommodated with willing strangers; five mobile phones loaned to his volunteer team by WorldCom to allow travellers to phone home; and shower facilities offered by hotels such as the Hilton and the Dorint.

A team of up to 20 volunteers had also worked tirelessly around the clock at Schiphol providing comfort and a feeling of safety to travellers forced to wait. These efforts ranged from an offering of air mattresses to an elderly woman cooking soup in her own kitchen to feed stranded and tired travellers.

And some of these travellers, Jim says, included a woman who was five-months pregnant. She had slept two nights on a chair. There was also the elderly couple, both aged in their 80s, spending the night sleeping on cardboard boxes at Schiphol plaza.

He says many of the stranded travellers were not well-off business people who could afford hotels, taxis and restaurant food, but were travellers coming home from long trips, many of whom were starting to run short of money.

They were among the 7,000 people stranded after KLM and other airlines grounded all flights to the US and Canada.

Most of the stranded Dutch travellers had returned to their homes, leaving about 2,000 others to fend for themselves, about 800 of whom were taken to refugee shelters, while others were said to have found accommodation in hotels.

A KLM spokesman, Hugo Baas, says the Dutch airline had looked after its passengers as best it could and claims the airline had been widely complimented for its efforts to not only re-route people back to their original destinations, but to re-schedule flights to the US, Canada and the Middle East and to accommodate people in communal shelters.

Baas says a fantastic relationship between passengers and KLM staff had been created during last week's crisis.

He says any criticism levelled at KLM about the crisis is a "bullish" story without any truth. He says KLM responded to the crisis with everything it had.

He also denies accusations KLM unduly inconvenienced passengers by offering two flights to the US on Thursday night last week, flights that were eventually cancelled about 11pm.

KLM had been forced to re-cancel the flights - offered to 681 people, many of whom were children, the elderly or people who feared a friend or family member had been killed in the terrorist attacks - after the US had closed its airspace a second time following the FBI's arrest of 10 terrorist suspects at US airports.

"It was a country in crisis," Baas says.

"People understood the possibility of risk."

All KLM flights have now been resumed.

But Baas says the terrorist attacks on the US were a disaster that "came upon us" and that the entire airline industry was disrupted by the tragedy as thousands of passengers returned to the airport rather than flowing onto intended destinations.

He does not deny some aspects of KLM's crisis management were not perfect.

"Of course things went wrong - there were humans at work," he says.

He also disbelieves people were left stranded without money, refuting claims people did not have money for such things as luggage storage and he says that people who did not stay at the shelter centres had decided to do so of their own accord.

0 Comments To This Article