Heathrow nightmare just gets worse and worse

Another 100,000 passengers contemplated Christmases ruined and holidays wrecked by the partial closure of Heathrow, as snow and ice kept its second, southerly runway closed until 5.30pm yesterday. It brings the number of travellers to and from the airport with journeys disrupted by the airport's inability to deal with extreme weather to 600,000. Many of those camped out at the hub of world aviation will be obliged to spend Christmas in the unholy transience of an airport terminal.

By 7am yesterday, as Heathrow struggled to cope with the sheer number of people stranded, around 1,000 hopeful passengers were queuing simply for admission to Terminal 3, the key long-haul terminal at Heathrow. Two women with toddlers in pushchairs were turned away for reasons, according to one official, of "health and safety", with security staff checking tickets against lists of confirmed departures, and enforcing a strict ban on anyone departing later.

The women were directed to one of the hastily erected marquees outside the terminal where the temperature was slightly above freezing. The only brightness conferred upon those denied access took the form of a Salvation Army van, dispensing tea, coffee and sympathy to travellers whose journeys had changed character from aspiration to desperation.

For some, the journey to Heathrow had been a battle in itself. Amy Whelan, a student from Co Waterford, Ireland, had abandoned hope of the short hop from Cork operating as planned, instead travelling by ship and bus to the airport in the hope of finally flying to New Zealand.

The five members of the Bianchessi family enjoyed two nights in Glasgow at BA's expense, en route from Los Angeles to Heathrow – from where they hope to board a flight to Stockholm tomorrow. "It's the worst experience in my life," said Franco Bianchessi. "I have never experienced such poor customer service. The only way I got through is because I figured out that because I speak Swedish I could call the British Airways offices in Sweden. You are on hold for about 30 minutes but at least you get to talk to a live person."

The partial opening of the airport meant that some of the aircraft dotted around European airports could finally return – loaded with passengers telling tales of extraordinary journeys.

Cologne in the second half of December is a city of many delights: the Roman foundations, gothic cathedral and formidable museums are augmented by half-a-dozen Christmas markets. But Barry Lloyd from Northern Ireland, who has just spent four days in the Rhine city, did not enjoy his stay that ended yesterday. He was obliged to wear the same blazer and open-neck shirt as he had worn on Friday when he boarded an Eva Air flight from Taipei to London. Just over an hour from landing, the Boeing 747 was diverted because of the snow in south-east England. "Eva Air has no representation at German airports, so the luggage stayed on the plane," he said. What was expected to be an overnight stop turned out to last for three extra days.

However the mismatch between the EU rules on customer care and what airlines are actually providing means that many passengers are running out of cash.

Syed Muhammad Islam, a student at the University of Leeds hoping to fly on Oman Air to India, is camped outside the airport chapel. He said he could not afford to continue to eat at airport prices. "They haven't given us any indication. They say 'maybe today; maybe tomorrow'. They are not sure about anything, they're just giving us 'maybe' answers, like 10 per cent, 20 per cent. They have given no confirmation."

As water dripped through a hole in the roof beside his makeshift camp, he said Indian airports would have made a much better job of the closure. "They would be shifting us to some accommodation at least so we don't have to sleep on the floor. They would definitely have made us go to a hotel or somewhere. It might be cheap, but at least they would have done that for us."

As the world's leading aviation hub degenerated to something akin to a prison, airlines' anger at their mounting losses intensified, at least in private. One senior executive railed against the "astonishing failures in communication" by BAA, the airport's Spanish owner.

While British Airways continued to reject any criticism of the airport operators, its losses rose faster than any of its rivals – due to the scale of its operation, and therefore the number of cancellations. Just one of the flights cancelled yesterday, from London to Los Angeles, represented £1m in ticket sales to BA – money it will never recover.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Transportation Contracting Manager

    £33000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A global player and world leade...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel and Spa Duty Manager

    £18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are friendly, sociable, ...

    Recruitment Genius: Payroll and Benefits Co-ordinator

    £22300 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum group is looking for a Payro...

    ICE ICT: Lead Business Consultant

    £39,000: ICE ICT: Specific and detailed knowledge and experience of travel sys...

    Day In a Page

    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

    Forget little green men

    Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
    UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

    39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

    There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
    Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

    Computerised cooking is coming

    From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
    Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

    Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

    The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
    Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

    Education: Football Beyond Borders

    Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
    10 best barbecue books

    Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

    We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
    Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

    ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

    Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most