Stranded At The Airport? Hope It's In Amsterdam

The volcanic ash cloud over Europe left legions of stranded passengers with no place to sleep but airports. But many say if you have to get stuck in one, the best is Amsterdam-Schiphol Airport in Holland. Guest host Jacki Lyden talks to Ad Rutten, the airport's chief operating officer.

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

Airspace across Europe is gradually reopening. The volcano eruption in Iceland on April the 14th created thick clouds of ash, which caused unprecedented travel disruptions, as everyone knows. For most travelers, of course, being stuck at the airport means things like hot tempers, bad food, endless hours of boredom. But not for those stranded at Amsterdams Schiphol Airport. They had a very different experience.

The staff put up movie projection screens, brought in musicians, even hired clowns to entertain the crowd. We've got Ad Rutten on the line. He's the airport's chief operating officer. Thanks for joining us.

Mr. AD RUTTEN (Chief Operating Officer, Amsterdam-Schiphol Airport): Thank you.

LYDEN: Now, I have to put in a word here, Mr. Rutten. I have to tell you that I really thought you had done something extraordinary when you brought in clowns to keep people entertained.

Mr. RUTTEN: Yes. Well, we did this to try to make the time that the people had to spend in our airport as comfortable to them as possible. And it varied from bringing in entertainment, looking for them to be fed by us in a proper way. We have some experience with delays also in wintertime, and we build up some kind of routine with the airport people, with the handling agents, the airlines and also the police to make people feel at home as much as possible.

Hospitality is a keyword, and that's what we tried to do not just in normal procedures but also during a crisis.

LYDEN: Well, you mentioned hospitality. I have taken a show at Schiphol Airport after coming grimy from the Middle East. Did you offer showers?

Mr. RUTTEN: We offered showers. We bought shower capacity in our airport hotels and also in the lounges from the airlines and the handling companies, and we offered showers to the passengers who had to stay at Schiphol.

LYDEN: And I imagine that treating people well is a pretty good business plan.

Mr. RUTTEN: I think it's a good business because people don't know whether they can go home or not. Just bringing in some entertainment - and we organize things like movies, we organize free Internet for them. We organize games and we brought in music, and they started to make music amongst themselves at some point in time. We had full choreographic dances performed by people from Iran, which we had a lot of people of Iran who missed their flight. And it was just entertaining. And they were entertaining the other people from China and Korea, and it was just great to see.

LYDEN: You know, I'm actually sorry I missed it. It sounds like people might not have wanted to leave.

Mr. RUTTEN: Yeah. In fact, at one point in time, we called in the embassies to see whether they could offer help to their people. And when the embassies came in, only something like six people left when they were offered help by their own embassies.

LYDEN: Well, it's a wonderful testament to Schiphol, but I hope you don't have to go through it again anytime soon.

Mr. RUTTEN: Yeah, unfortunately aviation is very dependent on the weather and many times, things happen. But it's a very low investment - but the payback is enormous.

LYDEN: Ad Rutten is the chief operating officer for Amsterdams Schiphol Airport, and we reached him at his office in Amsterdam. Thanks for taking the time for being with us.

Mr. RUTTEN: OK, thank you.

LYDEN: This is NPR News.

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