Heathrow cancels 50% of flights – more than the 30% it planned – due to 3 inches of snow

Heathrow airport, which says it operates at over 99% of capacity, planned to cancel 30% of flights due to the accurately forecasted snow that fell on Saturday night. However, it has cancelled 50%, saying this is  partly due to the threat of freezing fog. There is a great deal of disruption to passengers, and cynics or those fond of conspiracy theories are wondering whether Heathrow has made the most of its problems due to the snowy conditions to improve its case for a third runway, or other increases in flights. Since the snow problems Heathrow had in winter 2010 BAA has increased its Heathrow snowplough fleet by 68 to 185 at a cost of £32.4 million. But still Heathrow seems to have fared much worse with just 3 inches of snow than other airports like Gatwick,  Stansted, Luton etc.  No doubt BAA will once again blame the chaos on there being no third runway.

Heathrow cancels 50% of flights as snow and ice blanket Britain

Half of all flights have been axed at Britain’s busiest airport – hours after it stopped snowing.

5.1.2012   (Telegraph)

Snow ploughs clear the runway at London's Heathrow Airport which has cancelled one-third of its flights after heavy snowfall that started on Saturday night

Snow plough at Heathow

More planes were grounded today at London’s Heathrow airport following yesterday’s adverse weather and the airport’s decision to axe 30% of its flights.

The decision came as wintry showers ceased across the country and forecasters predicted dry conditions and a partial thaw.

A spokesman for Heathrow said the move was designed to minimise disruption and in anticipation of possible freezing fog.

While the runways, taxiways and stands have been cleared of snow, only 50% of the 1,300 scheduled flights are now going ahead.

But the airport insisted its “snow plan” had worked “far better” than in previous years.

A spokesman said the airport – which operates at 99.2% capacity – was “getting back to normal” as it worked to clear the backlog of flights.

“We took the decision with airlines and air traffic control yesterday to reduce the flight schedule in advance,” the spokesman said.

“By cancelling flights in advance airlines have been able to rebook some people on to flights that are departing, and passengers have had better quality information about whether they can fly or not.”

Extra staff were being drafted into terminals to help passengers rebook flights.

While there is no further snowfall expected today, freezing fog was forecast from 6pm, the airport said.

Heathrow’s usual flight schedule is due to operate tomorrow but passengers were warned there may still be cancellations because of today’s disruption, with aircraft and crew needing to be repositioned.

Travellers were advised to check the status of their flights ahead of departure.

A full schedule of flights is planned for Gatwick Airport, but passengers were warned of possible disruptions because of the weather.



Stansted, Birmingham and Luton airports were forced to suspend operations for a period last night as snow piled up on the runways, but operations resumed today with some delays.

… and it continues about other snow, weather  stories ….




The BBC said:

Meg Turner, from Muswell Hill, said her husband’s plane for Singapore sat on the tarmac for five hours on Saturday night, before the flight was cancelled and he returned home.

She said: “It was chaos at Heathrow. No-one seemed to know what was going on.”
Reuters said:

BAA was criticised in December 2010 after heavy snowfall led to the virtual shutdown of Heathrow, Europe’s busiest airport, leaving thousands of passengers stranded.

“British Airways has complied with the request (to introduce a reduced flight schedule) and continues to work with BAA to help keep the airport running as smoothly as possible. We are combining some of our schedule to ensure our customers can continue to fly to their destination as planned on alternate services,” said flag carrier British Airways, which runs the largest fleet in Britain.


The day before, Heathrow announced it would cancel 30% of flights, as a precautionary measure: 

The move comes after operator BAA, airlines, and air traffic control agreed to introduce a reduced flight schedule to “minimise the disruption to passengers” caused by adverse weather.

A revised schedule showing which flights will operate will appear on the Heathrow website at around 6pm.

The airport anticipates more than 70 per cent of passengers will still be able to travel as airlines transfer them between flights.

Heathrow’s chief operating officer Normand Boivin said: “This decision ensures that the greatest number of passengers can fly with the minimum amount of disruption.

“It also means that those passengers whose flights are cancelled will know in advance, and can make alternative arrangements or rebook in relative comfort.”


The Mail, reporting on the weather and the state of transport on Sunday 5th February said:
(part of a much longer article)
Meanwhile, airport bosses came under fire last night after cancelling a third of today’s flights at Heathrow because of severe weather – nine hours before a flake of snow had even fallen.
Amid forecasts of six inches of snow and possible freezing fog,  Spanish-owned operator BAA announced yesterday morning that 30 per cent of today’s flights from the world’s busiest airport – about 200 – would not take off to ‘minimise disruption to passengers’.It means that the flights of up to 18,000 travellers could be cancelled or rescheduled as airlines scramble to adjust their flight plans.
The decision was in stark contrast to airports across most of Europe where, despite arctic conditions, flights were due to take off as normal. Munich saw  temperatures plunge to minus 27C on Friday night but the airport expected no disruptions today.
The BAA move evoked memories of Christmas 2010, when Heathrow shut for five days, ruining the holidays of tens of thousands of people because there were insufficient snow clearance vehicles to keep runways open.
Since then, BAA has increased its Heathrow snowplough fleet by 68 to 185 at a cost of £32.4 million – part of a £50 million investment programme in equipment and staffing levels.
But last night, as the Met Office placed most of Britain on amber alert, its second highest severe weather warning, the scrapping of flights by BAA prompted questions over why it had invested so heavily in equipment which appeared incapable of dealing with the weather.
The decision was met with derision by passengers at the airport, where by 7pm yesterday a light covering of snow was on the ground although runways remained clear.

Operations have resumed at Stansted, Luton and Birmingham airports with some delays.

Heathrow was also said to be ‘running with delays’ due to a combination of yesterday’s snow and heavy fog but both runways were open.

A total of six flights were cancelled yesterday in Birmingham, where some passengers were forced to spend the night in the terminal.

But a spokesman said the airport would ‘catch up’ today, providing temperatures did not drop too much further.

In Luton, flights were ‘fully operational’ with some delays due to snow clearing.

A couple of departures were cancelled at Stansted but a spokesman for the airport said there was ‘movement’ on and off the runway, adding: ‘Flights are subject to delays of up to about one hour’.

A Gatwick spokesman said all scheduled flights had taken off and arrived safely, despite three inches of snow.


Comments from AirportWatch members:

No doubt BAA will once again blame the chaos on there being no third runway.

The guys at pprune are mystified by what is happening at Heathrow
regarding the “snow” cancellations.


(One of the pprune comments saying: ” London clearly doesn’t need any more airports, nor LHR another runway since the numpties that operate them can’t keep what they’ve got at the moment open for business in a few centimetres of snow! (and snow, I might add, that has been forecast for nearly a week and arrived on a schedule that even Swiss Railways would be proud of”.  And another:  “How on eatrh can Colin Matthews keep his job in the face of this complete shambles?”).

There are some good tweets from people arriving saying that they have taxied round the airport for two hours looking for a vacant stand. And a pilot in desperation turning the in-flight entertainment back on after landing.

After last years events and the expenditure on machinery to improve winter resilience, they are puzzled that 30% cancellations were planned in advance of the first few flakes. (Although there was a press report that things were organised to cope with a forecast of fog later in the day that restricts ground movements.)

Someone has suggested that it is a conspiracy to up the ante on the limited runway capacity.

Someone else has mentioned that the runways are clear but the stands are clogged up with the flights that have been cancelled.  And there are reports that arriving planes have been diverted all over the place :

“BA diverted flights so far!


There are going to be some very unhappy passengers I expect!  ”

And someone else says that flight radar shows there are flights in holds in strange places, waiting to see if Heathrow will let them in…….


Airports to be hit by massive fines for snow delays in bid to avoid repeat of flight chaos

  • Plan intended to make airports invest in snow-clearing equipment
  • Hundreds of thousands of passengers had holidays ruined last year


24th November 2011

Britain’s biggest airports face multi-million-pound fines if they end up snow-bound and paralysed again due to bad weather, it was reported today.

A draft Bill published by the Government has outlined plans to force Heathrow, Stansted and Gatwick to ensure they are better prepared for severe winter weather.

It follows last winter’s chaos when two thirds of flights were grounded in the big freeze and hundreds of thousands of passengers had their holiday plans ruined.

The powers, which are expected to come into force next winter, are intended to force airports to invest heavily in snow-clearing equipment.

Last winter Britain’s largest airport operator BAA, which owns Heathrow, came under fire when thousands of flights were cancelled over a five day period before Christmas due to bad weather.

They drew further criticism when it emerged that the bonus paid to the company’s chief executive Colin Matthews, was twice as much as BAA had spent on preparing for bad weather.

The new law will mean airports’ ability to deal with snow and ice will be governed by the same rules as poor performance, meaning that lack of preparation will trigger similar financial penalties.

Other changes will also increase the amount of an airport’s income which will be at risk.

In the case of Heathrow the maximum potential penalty for sustained bad performance over the year will rise from £91million to £185million.

A spokesman for Virgin Atlantic told the Daily Telegraph: ‘Reform is long overdue – the current regulatory regime has failed passengers.

‘Airport charges have been allowed to increase way above the rate of inflation, hitting passenger pockets and completely ignoring the economic climate.’

Carolynn McCall, easyJet’s chief executive also hailed the changes which, she said, put the passenger ‘at the heart of aviation’.

BAA has said that it now has 185 snow clearance vehicles at Heathrow and that 468 staff per shift will be available for snow clearing duties, compared with just 117 last year.

The operator has explained that it has invested £32.4m to ensure there is no repeat of the severe weather shutdown experienced last year.