Silent flights

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The unprecedented harsh weather afflicting the UK has left passengers stranded both in Cayman and the United Kingdom, unable to travel home for Christmas.

Over the weekend, below-zero temperatures and extremely heavy snow forced airport closures throughout Europe, particularly major hub Heathrow, severely affecting operations of many airlines serving Cayman directly or indirectly.

British Airways explained in a Monday update that the severe weather had caused significant disruption to operations on 18, 19 and 20 December.

“Currently Heathrow has only one of its two runways operational and many areas of the airfield remain unusable including areas around parked aircraft. The airport owner, BAA, is continuing to clear large amounts of snow and ice from the airfield, but based on current icy conditions and forecast of further bad weather, we expect this process to take some time. The airport is therefore likely to be operating at significantly reduced 
capacity for several days.

“We are adjusting our schedule to fit with the capacity of the airport for both flight departures and arrivals,” British Airways said in its statement. “We are planning to operate as many long haul flights as possible today [Monday], but there will be some cancellations due to the difficult conditions at the airport. … We are extremely sorry that customers are being inconvenienced and understand how frustrating this is. Our staff are working around the clock to do everything they can to help. We ask customers for their patience and understanding.”

Residents affected

Cayman resident Andi Irish was scheduled to arrive in the UK on Saturday evening and be a bridesmaid, but conditions in Britain intervened.

“I became aware of its possible cancellation because a friend coming to Cayman was sat on the runway in Heathrow, so my flight would not be departing until 11.30pm. But then I was told that people [at Heathrow] were told to get off the plane because the pilots had gone over their hours.”

Although BA attempted to book passengers on subsequent flights, there were no available seats, and a plan to go through Miami also fell through because of the weather.

“There was nothing available until 28th December and I was due to be a bridesmaid on that date.

Facebook is covered with stories from friends who were stuck in Bangkok, coming back from Australia, even Brussels, and people who have gone home via Orlando or the [UK] midlands,” said Ms Irish.

Mike Nelson, who travelled from Cayman on American Airlines via Miami to attend a wedding in Brighton on the South Coast of England, said that only half the guests had been able to attend due to the weather.

“The trip from London to the wedding should have taken no more than two hours – it took us eight. I got the train back up to London as they were the most reliable transport.

Checked with American Airlines Sunday morning and flight from Heathrow [to Miami] on Monday morning was still listed as OK. I had originally planned to stay at a hotel near the airport, but seeing the mess there changed plans and decided to stay in the city. By the time I checked on Sunday afternoon, the flight was cancelled.

“AA has put me on a flight on Wednesday with no compensation or apologies since the cancellation was due to weather. There is more snow forecast for [Tuesday] so I’m not convinced we will get out then.

Terminal 3 at Heathrow has, according to the news here, stopped anymore people from entering as they are full. I gather the main problem is that there are literally hundreds of planes iced-in at the gates. So it is not flying conditions causing the delays but the lack of usable gates. Hope to see Cayman before Christmas, but in the meantime I will play tourist. Very cold tourist,” said Mr. Nelson.

Nic Sowerby, a teacher in Cayman, said she was due to fly via Miami to Heathrow on Saturday, with American Airlines, but that flight was cancelled.

“We flew to Miami on Saturday on Cayman Airways thinking we could reroute from there. We stayed in Miami (at our expense) on Saturday and had been rescheduled to fly to London on Saturday night. Flight cancelled again!

“But eventually we got rerouted and flew from Miami to Orlando [on American Airlines on Sunday] night and are booked on a flight from Orlando to Manchester direct [with Virgin Atlantic on Monday] night – fingers crossed.

That’s fine for me as I live nearish to Manchester, but I am flying with a friend and she needs to get to London,” said Ms. Sowerby.

Virgin cancellations

Virgin Atlantic, which has links with Cayman Airways for European connections through Miami, Jamaica and Cuba, also reported disruption to its services with flights between Heathrow and Miami cancelled on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. However, services between Gatwick and Havana operated as normal on Saturday.

The carrier said that because of the backlog and the ongoing difficulties at Heathrow, departures from that airport were severely restricted and passengers should not attempt to travel to the airport unless they had a confirmed booking on a flight that was definitely operating.

It added that passengers wishing to travel before 23 December should call after noon on Tuesday, 21 December to check availability.

Reduced schedule

Heathrow Airport representatives told the media Monday that a reduced flying schedule would remain in place until 6am UK time on Wednesday, 22 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,” said a spokesman.

The UK government has also moved to permit additional flights throughout the night at the airport, which was closed over the weekend due to a five-inch snowfall in an hour on Saturday and subsequent temperature swings that created ice around aircraft parked on the ground. Heathrow said that it had brought in several hundred additional contractors to clear the situation.

The lowest UK temperature recorded on Sunday night was minus 19.6C (-3.3F) at Chesham, Buckinghamshire.

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Heathrow’s operations have been severely affected by heavy snow.
Photo: File
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1 COMMENT

  1. The problem appears to be that BAA, who operate the major UK airports, have always refused to invest in the snow clearing machinery needed to keep the runways open in these conditions because it might only be once or twice a year. On this basis, they argue, it is cheaper just to close the airports while nature sorts the problem out.

    BAA are now under pressure to sort this out before next winter but in the meantime the fact that airports were closed while passengers could still reach them by road or rail speaks volumes for the failings of the airport authority.

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