Monday, December 20, 2010

Heathrow Operations Curtailed Into Wednesday; Backups and Delays Will Continue Through Christmas

There's mounting outrage in Britain over the way passengers have been treated while stranded at airports during the severe winter weather that has disrupted air travel in Western Europe. Heathrow Airport, with massive route connections that span the world, was basically shut all weekend and still has not been able to resume anything close to normal operations.

The media are starting to catch up with the story of the misery passengers are encountering and the anger that's building as airports like Heathrow struggle, evidently not very successfully, to accommodate stranded people. Here's a report in the Telegraph newspaper today in London.

And here's a timely and comprehensive report datelined Paris in the New York Times. Also, showing its growing online savvy, the Times has this Internet roundup of reports and videos being posted by air travelers.

The Guardian newspaper in London, meanwhile, is doing a great job live-blogging the crisis.

And here is the latest update from Heathrow as snow and freezing temperatures continue in Europe:

"We have agreed a reduced flying schedule until 0600 on Wednesday 22nd December. A maximum one-third of flights are likely to operate during this period, and passengers should anticipate further delays and cancellations in the following days and potentially beyond Christmas Day.

Passengers should not travel to Heathrow without a confirmed booking. If passengers can travel at another time then they should do so.

This limited schedule provides airlines and passengers with more clarity in order to plan which flights are taking off and which are canceled. We aim to provide passengers with better and more timely information. Airlines are currently updating which flights have been canceled and the flight information board below shows the latest available flight information. If the flight status shows 'contact airline', the flight will not be operating today. Passengers must not travel to the airport unless they have confirmed that their flight is leaving today – airline contact numbers are available here.

The government has decided to permit extra flights throughout the night at Heathrow. The northern runway at Heathrow is open and handling a limited number of arrivals and departures. Earlier in the day, we prioritized aircraft that had previously been diverted, in order to bring passengers to Heathrow and get airline crews and aircraft in the right place.

Heathrow Airport was closed over the weekend following a 5-inch snowfall in around one hour on Saturday. There have been subsequent swings in temperature, to the extent that ice built up around the aircraft parked on the ground. Heathrow is currently using every available member of staff and several hundred additional contractors have been brought in to clear the situation. BAA has also deployed additional staff ..."

Meanwhile, other major European airports are also being hard hit, with delays accumulating. Few have been as responsive as Heathrow in at least addressing the situation on their Web sites. In Paris, De Gaulle Airport (of course) is pretending that nothing amiss has occurred, with its Web page full of smiling faces. Frankfurt, at least, has a notice that the weather is causing delays, along with a real-time posting of arrivals and departures.

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