Virgin witholds fees over Heathrow snow chaos

Virgin Atlantic is to withhold some landing fees from Heathrow because of the chaos caused by the airport's shutdown last month.

Sir Richard Branson's airline said it is not going to pay landing and parking charges due from January 1 until it sees the results of an internal inquiry into the disruption.

Tens of thousands of passengers were stranded when BAA-owned Heathrow ground to a halt for several days before Christmas after heavy snowfall and freezing conditions iced up the runways and jet stands.

Steve Ridgway, Virgin's chief executive, told the Financial Times: "We've told BAA we are going to hold back some of the monies we owe them.

"Because while we accept, and indeed we did, step up to our responsibilities to look after our customers, we feel they should also feel some of that accountability."

The fees Virgin are withholding are said to be less than £10 million, while Spanish-owned BAA's inquiry is due to be published in March.

Mr Ridgway added: "We want this inquiry to really focus on what happened and when the airport reasonably should have reopened and then we want compensation for all the costs we unnecessarily incurred after that.

"We're going to do that by holding back the fees we pay BAA and when the inquiry comes out we will happily sit down and work out what the right numbers are."

All planes at Heathrow and Gatwick were grounded on December 18 after several inches of snow fell and temperatures plunged below zero.

Heathrow's second runway was closed until December 21, meaning airlines had to pay for thousands of passengers to be accommodated and rebooked.

BAA chief executive Colin Matthews launched an inquiry into the shutdown last month. He also agreed to forgo his annual bonus during the public outcry.

At one point Prime Minister David Cameron intervened to express his frustration that it was "taking so long for the situation to improve".

BAA, which is owned by Ferrovial, the Spanish infrastructure group, said in response to Virgin's move: "Heathrow's conditions of use do not provide any basis for Virgin Atlantic or any other airline to withhold airport charges."

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