Sun, Dec 24, 2006 - Page 6 News List

UK airports recovering from weather

CHRISTMAS CHAOS Over 1,000 flights have been canceled at Heathrow alone, but British Airways was hopeful normal operations would resume in time for Christmas

AFP , LONDON

British airports were to attempt to run a near-normal service yesterday as thick fog was set to lift, following three days of pre-Christmas travel chaos that has left tens of thousands stranded.

More than 1,000 flights have been scrapped at London Heathrow Airport and about 60,000 passengers have been affected since Wednesday by the sudden cold snap, leaving their plans for Christmas up in the air as fog enveloped the giant hub.

British Airways said it was planning to get 95 percent of its customers away yesterday as the Meteorological Office predicted that the fog should start to lift, giving airlines two days to clear the backlog of delayed festive travelers ahead of Christmas Day on Monday.

Tomorrow, British Airways will resume services from Heathrow to Paris and Brussels and hopes to operate all flights as normally scheduled, the flag carrier said in a statement.

Heathrow, the world's busiest international passenger airport, has been the worst affected by the disruption, with hundreds of domestic and European flights canceled. More than 300 flights were scrapped on Friday.

"British Airways is planning to operate an increased schedule on Saturday and aims to fly 95 percent of customers to and from London Heathrow as planned," British Airways said.

"The airline plans to operate 87 percent of its shorthaul flights to and from the airport", including all domestic services to and from Heathrow after midday, it said.

"At this stage we are hopeful that the weather will improve slightly over the weekend and therefore we can get back to operating a full planned Christmas Eve schedule," British Airways director of ground operations Geoff Want said.

Domestic flights have been the hardest hit by the fog but there was still gloomy news for travelers seeking alternative forms of transport to get to their chosen destinations for Christmas.

Several newspapers printed maps of the country detailing a catalogue of road closures, railway disruptions and fog-affected airports.

The Daily Express said four people were killed on the roads as ice and freezing fog created treacherous driving conditions.

Airlines were laying on larger-capacity jets to cope with the backlog but the Times said they were unlikely to be full as many disgruntled passengers had given up and taken to the roads and rails.

Heathrow's terminals have at times resembled a refugee camp as hundreds sit it out while awaiting their flights.

Passengers waiting overnight in freezing conditions were offered blankets and hot drinks by British Airways staff, while Father Christmases, unicycling entertainers and heated marquees were also laid on.

Gatwick, the second-biggest air hub in Britain, and a string of smaller airports have also been hit by delays and cancelations.

An estimated 3 million Britons were due to travel abroad between Friday and Jan. 2, according to the Association of British Travel Agents.

Maurice Fitzpatrick, business analyst at financial and business adviser Grant Thornton, said that the disruption was likely to cost the British economy at least US$16 million through lost productivity.

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