AS the red, white and blue smoke arced through the sky I pointed it out to my young son. “Look! It’s the Red Arrows!” 

He gasped excitedly and for a moment I beamed as I watched him show his grandad where to look to see the RAF display team soaring overhead. 

Then the traffic lights changed and I had to get my eyes back on the road.  

It was a bittersweet moment, as this split-second glimpse through the windows of our car was the closest we would get to the day out we had planned at Teesside Airshow. 

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I’d booked us tickets months ago and the 200-mile round trip from South Yorkshire seemed like it would be well worth the effort. It was to be a double celebration – my dad Allen and son Harry both have birthdays around this time of year and a shared interest in aviation, so a jolly boys’ outing seemed just the ticket. But we never made it there. 

We made good time up the A1(M) to the outskirts of Darlington and when we made it past The Northern Echo Arena without incident we were confident of getting onto the site before flying started at 12noon. After all, in normal traffic conditions Google Maps estimates the journey from that point should take 8 minutes.

The Northern Echo: We spent 2 hours on just half of a journey that would take 8 minutes in normal conditions.We spent 2 hours on just half of a journey that would take 8 minutes in normal conditions.  

We’re not daft – we expected it would be busier than that for such a big event. But on the approach to Yarm Road roundabout, traffic ground to a complete halt.

When the roundabout finally came into view the problem became clear: it was completely gridlocked. 

With no kind of traffic management in evidence, it was a complete free-for-all that took us well in excess of an hour to navigate. And all the while with a small child getting steadily grumpier in the back seat. 

Once we finally got onto Yarm Road itself there was a brief flicker of hope as traffic was moving a little more freely. But it soon became apparent that most of the forward momentum was coming not because the front of the queue was moving, but because cars were turning around and giving up, leaving a gap for others to crawl forward into. 

The Northern Echo: Chaos on the A67 between Yarm and Teesside Airport. Picture: JIM SCOTTChaos on the A67 between Yarm and Teesside Airport. Picture: JIM SCOTT

We saw family groups, some with babies, getting out of their cars to walk the rest of the way to the site, leaving their unlucky drivers to meet them there later. But the whole point of our jaunt was for three generations to spend a rare day together, so that was a non-starter. 

It was then, watching foot traffic disappear over the horizon ahead of us, that we started to realise we might not make it to the show at all. 

Around 1pm, with both birthday boys bored almost to tears and desperate for the loo, the calculations started. At this rate we would be lucky to be parked up much before 3pm, by which point we’d have missed most of the air displays. And who was to say we wouldn’t face the same horrific traffic jams on our way back? 

The Northern Echo: Traffic near Yarm Road in Darlington. Picture: CRAIG STODDARTTraffic near Yarm Road in Darlington. Picture: CRAIG STODDART

The final straw came when a passenger who’d disappeared off up the road almost an hour earlier returned to the car in front of us with nothing but a theatrical shrug to show for her scouting trip. We’d seen enough. 

Not to be defeated completely, I drove us into Darlington town centre for a stretch of the legs, a hotdog from a van by the marketplace, but a distinct lack of aircraft.  

Then it was back on the road, with the Red Arrows providing a tantalising glimpse of the day we’d hoped for soaring overhead as we headed back to the A1(M). 

It’s encouraging to hear that the organisers, Sky Live Air, will be looking into what went wrong so that next year’s event can go more smoothly, but we certainly won’t be risking it again. 

Talk of refunds is welcome, although for us it’s not so much about the cost of the tickets themselves as the half a tank of fuel we used up at current prices, and we won’t be seeing that again. 

But I do have some advice to offer them, for what it’s worth. 

Why was the Teesside Airshow traffic so bad? 

Sky Live Air say they employed a professional traffic management company and had a plan in place developed over months. All I can say is there was no evidence whatsoever of this on the approach to the site from the south.  

The last time my dad and I went to an airshow, the final RAF Waddington show in 2012, the event was signposted from miles away on the A1. Key access routes were open only to cars displaying a parking pass for the event, with marshalls turning away those without one. None of that was in evidence on Saturday. We never saw so much as a yellow sign for the show all day. 

The ‘Getting Here’ section of the airshow’s website consisted of nothing more than an address and a single sentence saying that parking would be on the site. There were no directions or guidance of any kind provided with our £5 pre-booked parking ticket. 

But fundamentally, the single-carriageway roads around the airport were clearly never designed for the type of traffic that comes with a 25,000 ticket event, and it beggared belief that no kind of temporary traffic management had been put in place on Yarm Road roundabout. The rules of the road descended into the law of the jungle as muscling into standing traffic became the only way to make progress. 

It’s all very well to blame an accident on the A66 and call it “one of them things”, as Sky Live’s Chris Petty did on Saturday, but I hope the “full review” called for by Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen has a closer look at a traffic management plan that proved utterly unfit for purpose. 

What organisers have said

In a statement last night, Chris Petty and Steve Davies, co-organisers of Sky Live Air, said: “We apologise to every single person that was affected by the delays in getting to yesterday’s airshow.

“We employed a professional traffic management company, have held numerous meetings over many months with Stockton and Darlington Councils, the Safety Advisory Group, and the Police. The traffic management plan in place was fully signed off by everyone.

“Clearly something went wrong yesterday and we will fully investigate to make sure this doesn’t happen again. We are looking in to how to give refunds to those who didn’t attend the show because of the delays.”


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