How not to manage Fairford Air Tattoo cancellation

Air Tattoo Director Tim Prince should resign his position or be fired. The Fairford Air Tattoo has never been cancelled in its 38 years history, yet on this sunny day Saturday July 12th, they have cancelled it because of “a sustained period of heavy rainfall that has resulted in waterlogged conditions not only in the public car parks but also on the airfield itself.”

I am not in a position to judge as to whether this was the right decision or not – I have not seen the airfield.

What I am furious about is that no significant effort was made to contact people who have bought tickets and travelled – in some cases a long way at great financial expense – to attend the show.

I checked the website on Saturday morning before leaving London, actually to see if the aircraft participation list had been updated. Not surprisingly, I missed the tiny note on the page stating that the show was cancelled today. This is absurd in the extreme. With something as major as cancelling the event (for half the participants) WHY is it not SPLASHED across the page in red to avoid anyone not seeing it??? Instead the graphics still stated 12th & 13th July.

Its incompetent in the extreme.

I booked a ticket online. RIAT and Ticketmaster have my email address. Did I receive an email telling me it was cancelled? No. Only a moron would not consider sending out an email to all those who bought Saturday or Saturday/Sunday tickets – its cost-free, instant and effective.

Instead I wasted my day, wasted £100 on train tickets and cannot even book for Sunday if I want to.

Other sensible measures would have been to WARN people as the airfield was getting water logged, that cancellation might be a possibility and to put signs (easy to print on any laser or inkjet printer) at major travel hubs (London, Edinburgh, Birmingham) stating that the show was cancelled.

I’m furious and disappointed and other than providing a refund (to take 8 weeks!) for my tickets, RIAT has provided no further compensation – I don’t expect them to pay for my train tickets, that would be naive; but having failed completely to make any effort to inform people who may attend (there was not even a sign at Swindon Station, I had to be told by a bus driver whom I asked) the least RIAT could do is offer a token discount for next years event – one which I doubt I shall be supporting after this years debacle.

In summary, Tim Prince and his colleagues should have:

  • Informed all Saturday or Sat/Sun ticket holders on Friday that there were potential problems with water logged fields
  • Informed all Saturday or Sat/Sun ticket purchases by email that the show is cancelled as soon as they knew
  • Put a very obvious banner in red on the RIAT homepage and Air Tattoo homepage
  • Put a simple sign up at Swindon train station
  • Put a simple sign up at major transport hubs


16 thoughts on “How not to manage Fairford Air Tattoo cancellation

  1. RIAT – A Charity!!!!!! I think not – Fact none of the money from the ticket sales goes to charity. So if you are entitled to a refund then claim it back. If you doubt this statement then check the charity commissions website and download the trustees report & financial statement.

  2. Yes it was a joke the way they told people,i don’t understand,how you can have all the armed forces up there and no-one had plans in place for wet weather!!!oh please!!
    Now 8 weeks for a refund!!!

  3. You are correct. We were amazed that not a single effort seemed to be made to warn people this event may be cancelled. We checked the website late friday night!
    Many people travelled hundreds of miles, from abroad even, to see this and this was all the organisers could do.

    Clearly the organising authorities are either enormously incompetent, simply don’t care, but most lilkely a mixture of the two.

    In situations like this people should complain and say they will not buy any more of these over-expensive tickets anyway.

  4. Believe me the decision to cancell the show was the correct one. Those of you who came by car would all be moaning like hell if your cars got stuck in those car parks and severley damaged! You would also be moaning if you fell over and injured yourselves inside the airfield due to the conditions. So stop moaning people! I came up for the weekend also, and even though I was dissapointed, we decided to make the best of the weekend and enjoy ourselves whatever the situation. Oh, and by the way, if you moaning minnies think you can do better, why not volunteer your services, as they are always looking for volunteers! Either put up or shut up!

  5. I Travelled from the west of Ireland to Fairford as we have done for the last 5 years and we were present around the airfield Thursday and Friday. While there were many showers, and heavy ones at that, The crews at fairford should have forcast the drainage problems well in advance of Saturday Morning. They could have put it on the website. We only found out about it at 6am on Saturday Morning as we drove towards the airfield and discovered those ridiculous Cancelled Stickers which were posted across the AA signs. They Should have at least let a limited number of people who had pre purchased tickets into the field. It was a great day weather wise on Saturday, and even Better on Sunday. At least the Bristol Museum in Kemble made a few bob judging by the amound of bored photographers hanging around. What a farce.

  6. The cancellation of the show this year was very sad , a hell of a lot of very hard work went into putting it on ( by full time staff and volunteers ) . I don’t know anything about how the public were informed of this and can understand how they would feel if it were not done to their satisfaction . But , when ( insert unprintable language here) start to mouth off about the people who put on the show that really gets my back up . You have NO idea how hard it is to build this event , you wouldn’t be up to the challenge of being on the team ( come along I’d love to break you ! ) . So keep your comments about the staff to yourself , all’s fair in love and war if your pissed about the way you were informed of the cancellations so be it .

  7. @A.Volunteer

    You’ll note that the post was entitled “How not to manage Fairford Air Tattoo CANCELLATION”.

    I’ve no doubt that the cancellation of the show was of great regret to everyone who had put so much hard work in. All big events are tough to organise (I know, I’ve been involved in doing so).

    As a spectactor – a “customer” if you like – of the show, its only natural those customers/spectators view the event from a spectators/customers perspective.

    My perspective that day, as a customer/spectator, was that very little effort had been made to inform me, that the show was cancelled; nor any warning earlier in the week that it might be.

    Running an event such as this is about leadership, as is running any other event, or a company; the failing to make it more obvious, or to take some very obvious steps to inform those people who might not be aware of the problems unfolding, is in my view one worth drawing attention to, if only so it does not happen again. I’d argue actually, that given the complexity of holding such an event, it is all the more suprising that these things were over looked by organisers.

    Unfortunately I dont agree that feedback regarding the responsibilities of key staff, shouldnt be commented upon. The Air Tattoos primary responsibility is presumably to generate money for the charity; if not that then to put on a good show for spectators. Presumably all organisers also want it to be a success next year. Not admitting to the mistakes made this year will not help convince people they should make they effort to attend next year.

    The effort for someone to attend is of course very little compared to that of someone helping to organise; but that is not the point.

    Yesterday I received an email explaining my credit card had been credited for the tickets; its such a pity that I -and others- did not receive similar emails updating us on the unfolding water issues, both prior to and of the day of, the event. It would have saved many people a lot of time and money and kept the goodwill toward the Air Tattoo intact, which has now been damaged unnecessarily.

    As for your offer to be on the team, if -for what ever reason- I’m available (I run a growing business and Chair two others) during next year, I’d welcome the opportunity to get involved.

  8. I wonder if you feel even the merest twinge of guilt as you slam a charity organisation while its trying its hardest to get through its darkest hour.

    Perhaps you should concentrate on your business ventures, which I imagine are designed purely for self gain.

  9. @Derek

    I have to say no I dont have any guilt for providing feedback to the conduct of a charity.

    Kid gloves and being blind to feedback or improvement is EXACTLY the sort of approach which cab enable some charities and NGOs in general to become:

    Reject change/innovation
    Not performance driven

    The goal of a charity should be to maximise:

    1. the revenue generated for the cause which they represent
    2. the effective use of the money provided for the net gain of the cause they serve as part of their constitution

    Avoiding criticism or blame for decisions (or lack thereof) which clearly impacts the charity itself – and thus ultimately the benefactor of the charities work – is folly and only serves to increase/compound the list above.

    A charity should be run like a business – The profits and efficiency gains being channeled directly to the cause the charity is set up to serve. Working at a charity should not protect one from criticism nor responsibility for poor decision making – even if that decision making is, as with Fairford, communications policy toward the very people who make the donations possible.

    Your comment would be more helpful, if it responded to “Grahams” comment (top of this thread) – which I note no one who has defended the Fairford team, nor the Fairford team themselves, has chosen to clarify.

    Lastly on a personal note, if you mean are my business ventures for personal gain in the same way that Bill Gates ran his Microsoft empire for person gain for 30 years but has since setup the largest single ongoing philanthropic organisation the world has ever seen (giving annually more in funds than the GDP of many smaller countries), then the answer is yes.

  10. PS> I might add that this in no way impacts or takes away from the work which they do.

    Another approach -had they kept in communication with (I was going to say more regularly, but infact, its “at all”) is they could have then sent an emailing saying something along the lines of:

    1. We appreciate you like us must be very upset by the cancellation of the show … etc. etc.

    2. …but this is the wonderful work we do etc …

    3. …out of your show ticket price £X would have gone to charity etc etc.

    4 ….You can now either select below to click and receive a refund in full for your ticket, OR do nothing, and you will receive a refund for £X for the portion of the ticket which would have covered the shows running costs, with the remaining £X going to the charity…

    I suspect, many people would have been happy to do this. Had I not invested over £100 in train fares in a wasted journey, I for one would have been more than happy with this arrangement.

    This would have helped mitigate the “darkest hour” that you speak of.

    Perhaps that is the benefit of a cold, selfish, business orientated approach, which you hint at? 😉

  11. You are absolutely right Andrew you are certainly not in any position to judge. You should not have even commented; on something you seem to know so little, and appear to have researched even less

    As you pointed out the show has been running for 38 years, and has never been cancelled before. It ran during foot and mouth, the gulf crisis, the flooding that stopped Glastonbury and even opened weeks after the London tube bombings (despite the heightened security that forced other events to close and British Airways ground flights). They have always played it close to the wire, there appears to be something to stop it going ahead almost every year, sadly for all this year the flash flooding did.

    You say you didn’t know it was cancelled. I was abroad on business and heard the news Friday night. It was the opening headline on every news bulletin in the south west, appeared on the BBC news website, and even made it to the London news. The weather alone should have been an indication

    RIAT is a charity, yet not only do you want to blacken its reputation, claim your refund; you are also expecting a discount.

    The money raised at the show goes to the RAF benevolent fund, and if you haven’t noticed our service men and women have been in conflicts on 2 fronts for several years now. You worry about the cost of your train ticket while we are seeing young service people return home injured from Afghanistan and Iraq, with restricted budgets to support their care and rehabilitation.

    I think your call for resignations is ridiculous. The mere fact RIAT has run for 38 years through many adverse situations is testament to its adaptability. Your snap comments belong on a tabloid rag.

    I do however, believe you made good points about the website and the transport link signs, I am sure there have been lessons learned. However I believe your displeasure seems mostly at the inflated cost of the British Transport system to which Mr Prince and his team have no control of.

  12. My family and I travelled from Germany specifically for the Airshow….I didn’t expect compensation for the wasted flights, car hire, hotel etc….so quit moaning and get a life!
    Yes, I’ve already booked for 2009, hopefully we’ll get there this time….

  13. It was cancelled because of an extreme rain event. Extreme rain events are a consquence of climate change. How wonderfully ironic to see an event like this, which sticks its fingers up at climate change, get stuffed over by climate change. How pathetic that all the self interested idiots that boast of travelling half way around Europe for this environementally insane event can not make the connection. How diminuitive did out best technology look at Fairford last year in the face of climate change. How typically spoilt and narrow minded does out gap year friend in Fiji sound.

  14. Patsy,

    It is people like you that need to get a life. You and your family are flying all the way from Germany to watch the most carbon intensive bit of entertainment possible. You do this at a time when many other people in this country are doing all they can to cut their CO2 emissions. You are sticking your fingers up at those who care and ignoring personal responsiblities that are so important for a functioning society. See the latest report on climate change:

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