Airport’s low-tech solution to digital chaos involves the humble whiteboard

There are times when low-tech is the only way to go, a point proven by staff at Gatwick Airport, after the computer system that supplies information to the departure boards suffered a problem, leaving travelers without crucial details about their flight. The digital displays most of us are familiar with from airports around the world show flight status, departure time, and of course, the gate where once must wait ahead of boarding. If all this disappears, what can be done?

The team at Gatwick Airport has resorted to a low-tech and reliable (albeit time-consuming) alternative: Whiteboards. Staff apparently resort to other rare forms of old-school communication, such as relaying verbal messages between each other, to pass information to those writing on the whiteboards, and directly to waiting passengers.

The unusual situation at the airport has turned it into a trending topic on Twitter, with passengers — some disgruntled, and others quite upbeat — sharing photos of the situation. In the departure hall, airport staff are using the same kind of whiteboards many of us will recognize from meeting rooms at work to write out the flight information. Crowds of people surround them, eager not to miss their flights.

Some passengers complain that the whiteboard isn’t up to the job of displaying the required information, while others say it’s “calm and ordered,” due to airport staff’s diligence and organization.

What has caused the problem? According to Gatwick Airport’s official Twitter account, “an ongoing issue,” with Vodafone, which provides both the business and public data services, has stopped the flight information screens from showing data. A possible lack of mobile coverage may also make it difficult for people to use their phones to find other sources of flight information online. In a subsequent tweet, it’s stated the airport expects Vodafone to fix the problem soon, and the carrier told the BBC a damaged fiber cable was to blame. The issues began at around 9 a.m. on Monday, August 20, during one of the busiest travel periods of the year.

Currently, only a handful of passengers have reportedly missed flights due to the confusion. In 2017, the airport served more than 46 million passengers.

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