Passengers at London’s Heathrow Airport are experiencing a fourth day of delays and cancellations because of snow. The airport said capacity had been reduced by about 10% with at least 200 fewer arrivals and departures.
A number of train companies have delayed or cancelled services in the capital, including London Overground and Southeastern. A yellow weather warning of ice has been issued by the Met Office for southern England and light snow flurries are possible in the south east into the evening.
Eurostar cancelled six of its 50 departures from Brussels, Paris and London. Passengers have been advised to change their travel plans and official sources have said the date of travel on tickets can be changed. Meanwhile overground trains are running with speed restrictions leading to delays of up to one hour.
First Capital Connect, Southern, South West Trains, Gatwick Express, Southeastern and Greater Anglia have cancellations and delays. South West Trains has been operating 80% of its normal service, said managing director Tim Shoveller.
Heathrow Airport said flights scheduled after 16:00 GMT were most likely to be affected by cancellations because of reduced visibility. Passengers sleeping at Heathrow Over the weekend, stranded passengers slept on the floor and chairs
A spokesman said the airfield was fully operational but more than 10% of flights were expected to be cancelled by the end of the day.
He said this was partly because other European airports such as Paris Charles de Gaulle were running reduced schedules. Passengers are advised to check the status of their flights with their airlines before leaving for the airport.
Heathrow Airport has said it is not planning to cancel any of Tuesday’s flights, but disruptions at other European airports could have a knock-on effect.
Heathrow Airport’s Twitter feed said “hundreds” of extra staff members had been brought in to help with travel queries and re-booking. Cancellations led to hundreds of passengers spending Friday night in the airport and there were complaints about a lack of information.
The situation has eased, but Ian Acheson is one passenger who has had to wait for three days for his Friday flight to Las Vegas to take off from Terminal 5.
He told the BBC that he had spent more six hours waiting on a plane on Friday and was not given accommodation.
On Sunday, he boarded another plane and after five hours of de-icing he was told his flight had been re-scheduled for Monday. His luggage was not returned.
He said: “There were some very unhappy passengers.”
A spokesman for BA said his luggage had now been located and his plane was due to take off later. Since Friday, more than 500 flights have been cancelled from Heathrow Airport – 111 on Saturday and about 400 on Friday.
Following days of disruption the chief executive of Gatwick Airport, Stewart Wingate, has now written to Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin saying that “over-scheduling of flights at Heathrow during the winter period should stop”.
He wrote: “I am proposing that for the key winter months of December, January and February, Heathrow declares a level of capacity it can cope with in winter conditions.
Ian Aitchison first spoke to the Today programme on Saturday, after his Friday flight was cancelled, but he was still at Heathrow on Monday
“The additional flights then, for those three months, can move to Gatwick and Stansted. As a result there would be better use of the existing capacity at our London airports, safety would be enhanced and passengers will not have to panic every time it snows.”
In response, a Heathrow spokesman said it was for the Airports Commission to examine the issue of UK airport capacity.
So why do the airports in the UK – especially London Heathrow – struggle so much every time a little bit of snow falls? When the airport ground to a halt in spectacular fashion in 2010, BAA acknowledged that it was under-prepared for the snowfall.
There was anger that Heathrow was so easily crippled and Philip Hammond, the transport secretary, ordered an immediate review. It identified “a low state of preparedness” for snow that was forecast many days ahead and a lack of specialised equipment to clear it. Hammond said climate change could mean more regular repeats of the extreme temperatures that forced thousands of passengers to sleep in terminal buildings.
There was even talk of underground runway heating, but alas this never materialised. And since this kind of weather never used to be the norm for the UK, such a large expense is not considered financially viable.