a large airport with luggage carts and people

Cue the moody blues – it’s not even Christmas, and travelers are struggling to make it home for the holidays. Rare snowfall in London, coupled with freezing temperatures crippled the world’s third largest airport Sunday, leaving passengers to destinations all around the world scrambling. To make things worse, peak season has left temporary accommodations in scarce supply, forcing many to sleep on airport floors. It’s hardly the experience seen in the new Heathrow Airport Christmas Ad.

a stuffed animal sitting in a chairNumbers are staggering. Thus far, more than 60,000 people have been stranded by snow, freezing rain and an airport meant for full capacity – running at anything but. According to the Independent, overnight freezing rain hindered any opportunity to de ice planes in advance, causing an unexpected departure back log, which then left arriving flights without gates. Planes were forced to divert. The result: 210 short haul flights and more than 30 long haul flights have been cancelled by British Airways alone. While British Airways bear the brunt of cancellations due to their Heathrow hub position, they’re certainly not alone. Here’s what to do if your flight is affected.

a plane flying in the skyDelta, Virgin, Lufthansa, Swiss, Air France and Alitalia have suffered severe setbacks, with multiple daily flights cancelled. Knock on effects for connecting passengers will create chaos for passengers on all airlines, with airlines alluding to more than a week before all passengers are fully accommodated and put on planes. Due to all cancellations and delays being weather related, European compensation claims are null and void here. Airline mercy is the operating factor.

a bridge over a river with a clock tower and a buildingAs usual, these things couldn’t happen at a worse time. In mid January, when flights are notoriously empty, airlines could quickly assign passengers onto the next available flight. But with the holidays quickly approaching, flights are full to begin with – leaving airlines little choice but to bump passengers, offer lucrative vouchers or worse – tell stranded passengers to “try again later”.

Are you affected? Are airlines taking care of you?

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Did the airline look after us? I don’t know where to start. OK, so BA would have been overwhelmed, but the lack of information or organisation was totally inadequate. My flight to Geneva was cancelled on Sunday. From being notifed of the cancellation in the ‘app’ and leaving the airport took 6 hours. I rebooked myself and sorted my own hotel, but less regular travellers would have struggled to do this. The biggest issue, as I saw it, was the number of staff trained in ‘ticketing’. Several were wandering around with iPads, but could do little if the ticket was complex. I overheard a manager in the Galleries Club lounge on the phone begging for more ticketing staff, or staff who have been on the ‘Disruption Course’. Looks like a case of under-staffed, under-trained. As an aside, in the conversation the manager complained that many of his staff had left their iPads at home!

    The organisation in the baggage hall! There was none. No idea when bags would come out and where. All you could do was hop between reclaims to see what was coming out. I just gave up, walked out and put in a missing bag report.

    BA seem so prone to these totally disruptive incidents. Isn’t it time the Company put in place contingecy plans that actually work and treat customers as people and not sheep?

  2. At last, Heathrow delays that are NOT BA’s fault in the least… although I doubt there’ll be much “mercy” (or food or drink) for those poor souls who booked with Bloomin’ Awful.
    BAA (Ferrovial owned) on the other hand should perhaps invest in kit that enables airports like JFK to continue to operate in far, far worse conditions. I know the economics are different but they’re getting a fair amount per passenger and this seems to have become an annual event when they are “surprised” by the weather getting worse in the winter.

  3. I don’t think it’s as clear-cut as you are suggesting re compensation under EC261 regulations. I would suggest that BA could be held liable for it’s shoddy performance in part due to a complete breakdown in its deicing procedures, which is definitely exempt from the ‘weather’ excuse.

    In addition there is a ‘duty of care’ provision for passengers irrespective of the cause, and the delays of 6, 8 and even overnights due to cancellations would require some sort of service support by BA.

    British Airways and its ‘every penny counts’ attitude, would of course be very happy for the travelling public to remain unaware but to just go away when things fall apart at its main hub.

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