Storm Katie has wrecked the flight schedules at airports in southern England, with dozens of planes and thousands of passengers in the wrong places. Many morning arrivals due to touch down at London Heathrow and Gatwick were diverted to airports hundreds of miles away.
At Gatwick, some flights tried to land but were forced to abandoned the attempts. They diverted to Birmingham, Manchester and other airports.
Movements at Heathrow were disrupted due to a decision by air-traffic controllers to reduce the “flow rate” - i.e. increase the distance between arriving aircraft. Heathrow is the busiest two-runway airport in the world, and at the morning peak for arrivals there is little slack in the system to cope with disruption.
The most extreme diversions appear to have been the overnight British Airways flights from Johannesburg. One landed at Glasgow, the other at Shannon in the west of Ireland. The passengers eventually arrived around five hours late. Other intercontinental arrivals from Singapore, Delhi and Dubai turned up in Manchester, while the Sao Paulo and Bombay services flew via Birmingham.
Short-haul flights to Heathrow from Gothenburg and Düsseldorf were diverted to Stansted and Manchester respectively.
BA has cancelled more than 50 flights to and from Heathrow so far, with additional cancellations from Gatwick. Most are short-haul trips, but at least one transatlantic service - to Washington DC - has been cancelled.
A spokeswoman for British Airways told The Independent: “As a result of Storm Katie causing poor weather at Heathrow and Gatwick we are experiencing delays and a number of cancellations to our schedule today.
“We are sorry for any disruption to customers' travel plans and we would advise customers to check ba.com for the latest information about their flight.”
Many other airlines have been affected, with American Airlines, South African Airways and United long-haul arrivals diverted.
Virgin Atlantic’s early morning arrival from Barbados was six hours late, and some outbound passengers faced heavy delays.
At Gatwick, thousands of easyJet passengers encountered delays and cancellations. About 30 flights to and from destinations including Amsterdam, Athens, Faro, Munich, Paris and Nice were cancelled. Others were severely delayed. Passengers on the 6am flight to Lanzarote finally took off at noon.
In an online statement, easyJet said: “Many of our aircraft had to divert to other airports across the UK, as a result of this a number of our aircraft are not in London Gatwick for this morning. Our operations team have made multiple changes to our flying programme in order to limit the disruption.”
The worst-affected travellers are likely to be those stranded abroad who were booked to come back from Easter breaks in order to return to work. They could face waits of many hours or even days. If a flight on a particular route is cancelled, passengers are not automatically accommodated on the next departure; they go to the back of the queue.
The storm will prove costly for the airlines. Besides losing revenue from cancelled flights, they are also obliged to provide care for stranded passengers until they can get them to their destinations.
Trains and ferries have also been disrupted by the strong winds and rain that swept across the region during the morning. On the railways, the effects of the planned Easter engineering work have been exacerbated by flooding, landslips and fallen trees.
Passengers who were lucky enough to touch down at Gatwick found onward trans disrupted by obstructions on the lines to London and Horsham. The line between Salisbury and Exeter will remain closed for the rest of the day because of a landslip. In Kent, Southeastern trains were delayed by up to an hour.
P&O Ferries, the biggest operator between Dover and Calais, asked travellers to check-in as normal for their booked sailing time, but warned: “Due to adverse weather conditions our services are subject to delays.”
Tuesday's Brittany Ferries sailings in both directions between Portsmouth and Bilbao have been cancelled because of expected bad weather in the Bay of Biscay.