Snowstorm halts flights at Heathrow Airport

Some passengers said on Twitter that they waited more than 12 hours at Heathrow. PHOTO: TWITTER/MICHAEL BABYAK

LONDON (NYTIMES) - A snowstorm that pushed across London on Sunday (Dec 10) brought Heathrow Airport, one of the busiest in the world, to a virtual halt as airlines canceled numerous flights and planes were stranded at gates.

Passengers described scenes of confusion and frustration. Some people boarded planes and waited for hours on the tarmac, only to have their flights cancelled. Passengers waited for hours in lines that wound through the airport to speak with airline representatives. Many arriving flights were diverted.

Lee Hutchison said he and his girlfriend, Jo Wisbey, landed at Heathrow from New York on Sunday morning to discover that they had missed their connecting flight to Edinburgh, Scotland. Their airline, British Airways, booked them on another flight, which was cancelled, and then two other flights, which were also cancelled.

"Barely any flights went out, and the numbers of people needing rebooking grew," Hutchison said in an interview.

Hutchison said British Airways told them their last flight of the day, departing around 9 pm, had been cancelled. After they checked into a hotel for the night, they discovered that the flight had actually departed.

Another person posted a photograph of crowds of people inside the airport on Twitter and added: "Hubby was due out on flight at 5.40pm delayed till 7.30 then cancelled. Now 4 hour que inside immigration, but he isn't even in immigration yet. Stay away #uksnow." A spokesman for British Airways, whose primary hub is Heathrow, said she did not know how many flights had been cancelled, diverted or delayed. She said cancellations and delays were expected to continue into Monday.

"We're very sorry that our customers' travel plans have been affected by severe weather conditions," the spokesman said in an e-mail. "Heavy rain overnight and snowfall in the UK this morning, combined with a reduction in the number of flights able to land at Heathrow have caused disruption to our flight schedule." Some passengers said on Twitter that they waited more than 12 hours at Heathrow. Others said they were not allowed to retrieve their luggage after their flights were cancelled.

A representative for Heathrow did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment on Sunday evening. On its website, Heathrow said disruptions were expected on Monday because planes and crew members needed for the flights had not been able to reach the airport.

"We're working with our airline partners to return aircraft to where they need to be, and full service recovery remains the focus," the airport said.

The snowstorm brought 25cm of snow to parts of the London region, with some areas seeing the most snowfall in about five years. Passengers said far less snow fell at Heathrow, which is about 21km west of the centre of London.

"It stopped snowing at about 3pm," Claire Moore, whose husband was stranded on a British Airways flight to Saudi Arabia, said in an interview. "And it wasn't exactly heavy snow." She said her husband arrived at Heathrow for a 1.20 pm flight to Riyadh. The flight was delayed until 3pm, then 4pm and then 5pm. Finally at 8pm, she said, he boarded.

But his travel was disrupted again when a passenger assaulted someone on the plane, and police were called, Moore said. "After this point, the flight was deemed to be outside regulations for flight crew hours, and it was cancelled," she said.

Moore said her husband left Heathrow and returned home late on Sunday evening. One of his co-workers on the flight was not as lucky. "His colleague is still at Heathrow who appeared to have now lost his luggage," she said.

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