Dozens more British Airways flights from Heathrow have been cancelled after snow and ice caused disruption at the weekend.
The airline, the main operator at the UK’s busiest airport, was particularly badly affected after the weather turned worse than forecast from Sunday morning.
BA cancelled 170 flights on Sunday, leaving many planes and crew out of position, and on Monday it cancelled more than 100.
Heathrow said it was operating three-quarters of its schedule on Monday, although many flights were delayed.
Passengers shared pictures on social media showing long queues and chaotic scenes in parts of Heathrow airport on Sunday night, with some complaining of a lack of information and compensation from BA.
Some arriving flights were diverted, and those that did land were delayed due to a lack of available stands.
The airline, which operates around half of all flights from Heathrow, promised to rebook passengers on other carriers or via other routes where possible. It was offering refunds to passengers who decided not to travel or Monday or Tuesday, whether their flight was cancelled or not.
Heathrow urged passengers to check the status of their flight with airlines before coming to the airport.
The disruption, which could affect up to 50,000 BA passengers, has again raised questions over Heathrow’s preparation for winter. The airport was criticised in December 2010 when five inches of snow reduced its operating schedule over five days, leading to an immediate announcement of £10m in snow-clearing equipment.
Further investment followed an inquiry into its winter resilience, including a doubling of its snow-clearing fleet to 130 vehicles. But the comparative rarity of snow at Heathrow has meant some measures, such as more de-icing equipment beside the runways, have not been seen as justified or practicable.
On Sunday BA experienced particular problems de-icing planes – essential for flight safety – as freezing conditions followed torrential rain. Relatively benign weather forecasts for Heathrow meant BA did not start cancelling flights until late Sunday morning.
Some aircraft needed to be de-iced a second time after waiting to take off. As delays mounted through the day, some crew reached the safe cap on working hours, leading to further cancellations.
BA said: “We are very sorry that customers continue to suffer from the disruption to flights at Heathrow caused by the severe weather conditions that have affected airports across northern Europe.
“Time spent on de-icing aircraft to ensure safe operation plus air traffic control restrictions and the repositioning of aircraft and crews from yesterday have led to further cancellations and delays today.”
Passengers expressed frustration about long waits and lack of information from BA. Beth Kanter, 60, a non-profit and charities consultant from San Francisco, said her BA flight was cancelled on Sunday after the plane six hours on the tarmac waiting for de-icing. She said she was told by crew that as the weather was “an act of God”, the airline could not pay for a hotel.
She said she faced further hours of waiting in immigration and in the baggage reclaim, which she described as “total chaos”. “There was a huge long line – it must have several hundred people in it – stretching from baggage claim number three to the last one where customer service was,” she said. “There was one person there.”
Kanter’s flight was rebooked for Monday. “They announced that everyone should go home and come back tomorrow to deal with their bags … people were really pissed off and it was stressful.”
Kenton Keithly, 65, of Woodland, California, was booked on a connecting flight from Newcastle to Heathrow that was cancelled on Sunday night, and had to rebook for Tuesday to return to San Francisco. In 2010 during Heathrow’s last major struggles in the snow, he had spent a night on the floor of Terminal 5 departures.
“I love flying BA,” he said. “They are incredible in the air but lousy on the ground. Speaking with other passengers in the line last night, we all agreed that BA has learned nothing from seven years ago and Heathrow have failed to address the issue of having enough de-icers to cope with demand when needed.”
A Heathrow spokesperson said: “The safety and comfort of our passengers is always our first priority and we are working closely with our airlines to ensure affected passengers are looked after. We apologise to those whose travel has been impacted and regret the inconveniences that have been caused.”