UK Passengers Stranded As Fog Hits Flights

December 21, 2006

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Thousands of passengers were stranded on Thursday as heavy fog in southern England grounded hundreds of flights during one of the busiest travel periods of the year.

About 500 people spent the night at London's Heathrow Airport after British Airways cancelled all domestic and some European flights to and from the airport due to poor visibility.

Airport operator BAA warned of overcrowding and delays for people trying to visit families for Christmas, or flying off for winter breaks.

At least 350 out of 1,300 flights at Heathrow were grounded.

"We are advising people to check with their airline before leaving their homes," a BAA spokesman said.

Heathrow was shrouded in thick fog for a second day, prompting air traffic controllers to impose tight restrictions on flights.

Passengers queued outside terminal buildings. Student Rob Evans, 23, flying with Lufthansa from Calgary to Hamburg, said he had spent the night on the floor waiting for a flight.

"I am too tired to be angry," he said. "It felt like the worst sleepover ever."

Another passenger, Gianluca Longhi, 24, said his flight to Milan had been cancelled.

"It looks like I will be spending Christmas in London," the student said. "I feel I will be stranded here indefinitely."

Car hire firms at Heathrow Terminal One said they were running out of cars as people looked for other ways to travel.

"All of our 350 cars were snapped up this morning," a Hertz spokesman said. National Alamo said it had no more cars at Terminal One.

The airport's Managing Director Mark Bullock urged passengers to check with airlines before going to the airport.

"It is very, very unfortunate that passengers are unable to travel, especially at this time of year," he told BBC radio.

Flights were cancelled at other British airports, including 30 in Scotland, as the disruption spread.

Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander said airlines must ensure they have enough staff to keep passengers informed through call centres or web sites.

"I would strongly urge them... to take the necessary action both to get people in the air if they can, but if not, to make the right arrangements to make sure that there is the least inconvenience possible," he told the BBC.

Britain's Met Office said while the fog might lift from the Heathrow area later in the day, there was a continued risk of fog returning through to next week.

"There's always going to be a risk of fog over the next few days," she said. "We're going to keep the high pressure over the southeast up to the weekend and into next week."