Refunds now offered after traffic chaos at South East Airshow at Manston Airport
Long delays outside Manston airport for the South East Airshow. Picture: Mike Pett
Organisers of the South East Airshow have done an apparent u-turn today - and confirmed they will issue refunds to families who missed the show because of traffic chaos.
Last night, many customers received emails saying their "terms and conditions state no refunds" and claimed they did everything they could to avert traffic gridlock.
However, a statement this afternoon said customers who booked tickets through the organisers' website but did not make it to the show will be given a full refund.
They have alternatively been offered free replacement tickets to two other events.
Thousands of spectators endured queues of up to nine miles, with some stuck in the gridlock for so long they did not arrive at Manston Airport on Saturday until the event was over.
"I really do apologise once again for your terrible experience and I assure you we will learn from it and do better next time..." - organiser Angie Sutton
A statement from the join organisers today said: "AS Enterprises and Heritage Events apologise most profusely for the traffic situation.
"We were overwhelmed by the amount of visitors wishing to attend the South East Airshow which was far beyond our expectations.
"Although we made several announcements on local radio and erected sold out signs in the early afternoon to aid the congestion problem, people without tickets still pressed on.
"To recompense for the difficulties experienced by many and as a gesture of goodwill, on receipt of intact non-stamped South East Airshow tickets that were pre-purchased through the Heritage Events Site we would like to offer either free replacement tickets to two future events of the Combined Ops Show on 17th and 18th August 13 and to the Southern Model Show on 14th and 15th September 13 or a full refund.
"Tickets should be sent by registered mail to: Heritage Events Ltd, PO Box 1252, Maidstone, Kent, ME14 9LQ by the end of July 2013."
It was the first time in 20 years the South East Airshow had been held at the Thanet airport.
Violence is said to have erupted when frustration turned to road rage as some motorists spent seven hours travelling just five miles.
Many blamed poor planning and said organisers were overwhelmed by around 30,000 visitors.
Thousands of cars at the South East Airshow at Manston airport. Picture: James Heming
Angie Sutton, managing director of AS Enterprises, which organised the airshow with Heritage Events, said in an email to customers last night: "We had three ways of entering the car park coming from different points of the compass with 10 car parking teams working flat out all day.
"The routes that came in via Margate and Ramsgate flowed smoothly and it was only the Thanet Way that blocked. We had liaised with KCC Highways and the police on numerous occasions in the previous six months and had been advised on which roads to keep open and which roads to shut, we followed that advice to the letter. We also employed extra policemen at great expense.
"We had sold 15,000 tickets in advance and hoped that we would sell 5,000 on the gate. This event had not been organised in 21 years so we could only make an educated guess on the numbers expected to attend."
Organisers try to control traffic for the South East Airshow with cones. Picture: Mike Pett
Ms Sutton added: "To compensate for the number of people expected we had also organised shuttle buses operating from Ramsgate Train Station and even at the busiest time of the day we had over 5,000 car parking spaces left in the car park.
"In fact the airshow welcomed just under 30,000 guests who all seemed to have a great time with plenty to do on the ground and some brave pilots who flew in spite of the atrocious weather.
"As you can imagine it is very difficult to say it was our fault as the airshow itself went ahead without a hitch it was the sheer number of people approaching from one direction without pre-buying tickets that proved to be too much for the Thanet Way to cope with.
"Our terms and conditions state no refunds but although that sounds a little callous we did uphold our part of the contract it was the Thanet Way that didn't, despite all the prior planning.
"I really do apologise once again for your terrible experience and I assure you we will learn from it and do better next time."
Marshalls try to direct traffic at the South East Airshow. Picture: Mike Pett
Mother Opal Hurley, from Sittingbourne, was among those seeking a refund for her family.
The 34-year-old spent £36 on tickets a week before the event. She had planned a day out with her husband and father-in-law along with her daughters aged four and 13 as well as her 10-year-old niece.
They left Sittingbourne at about 9.30am - and spent four-and-a-half hours in the tailbacks.
Opal said: "Every time the car moved it would be about a metre and then we'd stop again - when we finally got to the Monkton roundabout and looked towards the entrance, the cars were just bumper to bumper.
"There were people getting out of their vehicles along the Thanet Way, men were going to the toilet by the side of the road - it was an absolute nightmare."
Opal Hurley with her husband and two daughters, who were stuck in queues to the South East Airshow
She added: "I would like a refund. I've contacted Heritage Events through their email address as there wasn't a phone number. I'm just hoping I get a response.
"The event for us was meant to be a family get together to show the children some nostalgia that we saw when we were children.
"My father-in-law was very upset as he'd travelled from Dartford and really wanted to see the Vulcan.
"Even if we'd managed to get in at 4pm, the planes had already flown and then I understand people had difficulty getting out at the end of the day and that was something we weren't prepared to try and do."
A sign explaining that the South East Airshow was sold out
Airshow expert Major George Bacon, who commentates at events around Britain, said the "overwhelming success" of the South East Airshow led to major traffic problems.
He said there is always a traffic plan, which involves police and local authorities.
Mr Bacon said: "I thought it was a great first effort personally.
"There was overwhelming large support from the people of Kent. What the organisers will now have to do is go back into consultation with the local authority and the police to work out a way to accommodate more people.
"The only way to overcome these sorts of things is to go to online ticketing only and then stop it a couple of days beforehand.
"Given that there hasn't been an airshow there for 20 years, it was really difficult for the management team just to guess what they had to cope with on the day."
Visitors to the South East Airshow stuck in long delays
Organisers AS Enterprises and Heritage Events said in a statement on Sunday: "All parties recognise the problems that people faced travelling by vehicle to the South East Airshow and apologise to those who experienced long delays and were unable to attend the event.
"There will be a full debrief with all parties and once we have collated all the feedback, we will be able to make a more detailed statement. We would ask for people to email their views and their personal experiences to firstname.lastname@example.org
so we can respond to each person individually."
"All parties recognise the problems that people faced travelling by vehicle to the South East Airshow and apologise to those who experienced long delays and were unable to attend the event..." - statement from organisers
Meanwhile, Manston Airport chief executive Charles Buchanan said: "I know that the organisers of the South East Air Show have already committed to dealing with everyone who contacts them, but on behalf of everybody at Manston Airport, I would like to add my apologies for the problems experienced by many visitors to the event.
"We provided the airport to organisers Heritage Events and AS Enterprises as the location for the Airshow and they undertook the planning, parking, stewarding and on-the-day management of the event.
"The airport's role was limited to managing the movement in and out of the various aircraft by our air traffic controllers and operating the aviation activities.
"The travel experience of visitors to South East Airshow was in sharp contrast to the day-to-day experience of passengers flying to and from Manston via KLM. The traffic was not representative of a normal day at the airport, which genuinely offers a hassle-free experience to our passengers."
The group behind the star attraction of the show, says organisers should be congratulated for staging a great day.
Richard Clarke, from the Vulcan to the Sky Trust, which exhibited the iconic Vulcan, said it was a shame there was a level of negativity about an event that should be celebrated.
He said: "It's a positive event. It obviously brings money to the local economy as all these events do.
"I take a balanced view I can understand how people are feeling, especially if you've been queuing for hours and if you live locally and can't get from A to B, you can understand the frustration. But with events like this you're always going to have heavy traffic volume."
Crowds at the South East Airshow at Manston. Picture: James Hemming
Colourful jet Miss Demeanour appeared at the South East Airshow
Mr Clarke added: "I guess the organisers will learn. I hope they put this on again next year. Its like anything, when you have your wash-up meeting the traffic issue will be something to look at. They'll want to try and alleviate the same thing from happening next year."
Other distinctive planes on show were the colourful Miss Demeanour, a restored Hawker Hunter jet fighter first commissioned by the RAF in 1956.
RAF Vulcan bomber flew over Manston Airport at the South East Airshow
Other well-known aeroplanes that flew into action included a Spitfire and a Hurricane, and helicopters included the Sea King and Apache.
Not all of the action was in the air, with a host of land-based entertainment including a Typhoon aircraft simulator, fun fair and stalls.
Car parks were packed at Manston airport for the South East Airshow
There was also be a Second World War re-enactment and vintage motors on show, thanks to the Ramsgate Old Motor and Motorcycle Club.
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