Travel misery is expected continue to blight the UK in the run up to Christmas, with Heathrow’s woes looking far from over.
Thousands of travellers trying to leave or return to the UK experienced another day of long queues and grim conditions at airports as the snow and ice wreaked havoc.
Transport minister Philip Hammond has relaxed the rules on night flights in a bid to ease the passenger backlog at the west London airport – following airport operator BAA’s confirmation that Heathrow’s second runway will remain closed on Tuesday.
The big freeze has not only affected those trying to leave the UK by air, with some Eurostar passengers having to queue for more than seven hours to board a train at St Pancras. The UK’s roads and rail network has also been badly hit.
Giving a statement to the Commons, Mr Hammond said disruption was “inevitable” given the severity of the weather conditions and that the transport system would “struggle to recover” in the days leading up to Christmas with more poor weather expected.
He said the strategic road network and rail network have performed “broadly satisfactorily”, but he appeared to take a swipe at the reaction of BAA by saying: “The experience at airports, and Heathrow in particular, has however been different.”
Sunday’s whole-day closure at Heathrow and continued reduced capacity presents “a very real challenge from which the system will struggle to recover quickly” Mr Hammond said.
BAA said that “significant cancellations” would extend into at least Wednesday, with many areas of the airfield “not be usable until Wednesday morning at the earliest”, and told passengers to keep away from full terminals unless they knew for sure their flight was operating.
Further disruption is likely to occur “through this week”, Mr Hammond told MPs, adding: “This is particularly stressful just a few days ahead of the Christmas break.”
The transport minister said he understood the “frustration” of those trying to get away or back home to enjoy Christmas with their families. BAA has already announced it is unable to accept any more people in the “extremely congested” Terminals 1 and 3 and warned that a reduced flying schedule due to commence at 6am on Wednesday would mean that a “maximum one third of flights are likely to operate during this period”.