Tomorrow morning, an estimated 25,000 prospective airline passengers are waking up not where they want to be.
Seventy-five of them were expecting to be in Norway, having flown there on British Airways’ morning departure from Heathrow this morning. At around the time they should have been served their first cup of coffee over the North Sea, they were instead sliding down emergency chutes on one of the world’s busiest runways – and, shortly afterwards, giving thanks for the professionalism of the pilots, cabin crew and air-traffic controllers. A collective obsession with aviation safety has kept the skies safe for passengers on British jets since the 1980s – an extraordinary record, and the envy of the world.
The world is also jealous of the status of London as the global hub of aviation: the capital’s five (or six, depending on whether you count Southend) airports collectively handle far more passengers than any other city, including New York, Paris and Tokyo. But what no-one envies is the constriction at Heathrow.
A full-blown emergency will impact any major airport, but nowhere else would a temporary runway closure lead to the cancellation of 200 flights. As grounded passengers try to salvage something from the wreckage of their travel plans, they may wonder at the strange coincidence of incredibly safe skies and implausibly inadequate infrastructure in a busy corner of north-west Europe.