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.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
TVShow's twee, safe facade smashed by ice cream melting scandal
News
newsVideo for No campaign was meant to get women voting
News
A photo of Charles Belk being detained by police on Friday 22 August
news
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
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
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Graduate Sales Executive / Junior Sales Exec

    £18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Exe...

    Web Developer / Software Developer

    £25 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Web Developer / Software Developer is needed ...

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Day In a Page

    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
    Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

    What is the appeal of Twitch?

    Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
    Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

    How bosses are making us work harder

    As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
    Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

    Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

    As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
    Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

    A tale of two writers

    Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
    Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

    Should pupils get a lie in?

    Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
    Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

    Prepare for Jewish jokes...

    ... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
    SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

    A dream come true for SJ Watson

    Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
    Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

    Paul Scholes column

    Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?