Tens of thousands of airline passengers found their flights cancelled yesterday in a replay of last winter's disruption as Heathrow Airport's "snow plan" failed to survive first contact with inclement weather.
By lunchtime, the airport's promise that 70 per cent of flights would operate was downgraded to half. Passengers booked with BA, the airport's biggest customer, were hardest hit. Many were stranded at the wrong end of their planned routes, while several thousand found themselves in the wrong country.
Delhi to Glasgow, Dallas to Shannon and New York to Cardiff do not appear in regular airline schedules but were among some of the exotic journeys endured by around 4,000 BA passengers whose flights to Heathrow were diverted.
Some transatlantic flights were able to complete their journeys after a couple of hours on the ground, but many passengers faced overnight stays before they could reach their final destination.
Philippa Britton, who lives in Kendal, Cumbria, was trying to fly back to Manchester. She said: "We arrived back from Hong Kong and are now trying to move on with the rest of the journey.
"On the flight into London lots of people were astonished that so many flights had been cancelled.It's unbelievable. The runways seemed clear and they have cancelled the flights."
Firs Alam was supposed to fly to Tokyo at 10.00pm on Saturday until his plane was grounded. Yesterday he said he was having a "disgusting time", and was preparing to spend the night sleeping on a bench in the airport.
The December 2010 debacle cost airlines more than £50m and wrecked the travel plans of around one million people, prompting BAA to formulate a new snow plan. Though the upheaval was reduced this time, many stranded travellers will have taken little comfort from the airport's statement yesterday that: "Our snow plan has worked far better than in previous years."
Flight BA12 from Singapore was one of the worst affected. The Boeing 747, with over 300 passengers, was held at Singapore for 70 minutes after Heathrow warned the airport would not open until 6am. Just before it reached Heathrow, the captain told passengers it would instead be landing at Prestwick in south-west Scotland. BAA blamed the diversions on aircraft blocking parking stands.
The Met Office warned that "severe" weather conditions would continue into today. Forecasters warned that roads and pavements will continue to be hazardous, with thick fog patches. Eastern areas are expected to remain dry and cold for the rest of this week while western parts will be cloudier with a chance of snow.
BAA said it expected to return to a full flight schedule today but British Airways has cancelled dozens of departures and inbound services. A BA spokeswoman said it will contact customers affected.