LONDON — Thick fog grounded hundreds of flights at airports serving Britain’s capital on Thursday, stranding thousands of travelers at one of the peak travel periods of the year.
Weather forecasters at Britain’s Met Office said the fog might lift from London’s Heathrow airport later in the day, but there was a risk it would return over the Christmas period, continuing to next week.
About 500 people spent the night at Heathrow after British Airways cancelled all domestic and some European flights to and from the airport due to poor visibility.
‘Spending Christmas in London’
“It looks like I will be spending Christmas in London,” said student Gianluca Longhi, 24, after his connecting flight from Newark, New Jersey, to Milan was cancelled.
He has spent the past two days at Heathrow trying to join his family in Italy.
“I feel I will be stranded here indefinitely,” he added.
It is the second time Dariusz Cichy from Poland has been caught up in severe delays at London’s airports.
The terror alerts in August left the 33-year-old farm worker trapped at Gatwick trying to get home to Warsaw.
This latest delay at Heathrow is worse, he said.
“This one is much longer. It is a disaster.”
Last night, British Airways put him up in a hotel, but he has been told the next flight to the Polish capital is not until December 26.
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“I could buy a ticket for an alternative airline, but even then there is no guarantee of a flight.”
His friend Agnieszka Muchalska, 29, said she was happy to take a flight to anywhere in Poland at this stage.
“I only have a brief holiday so I am looking at coaches and ferries to France, but they are full, and Eurostar is too expensive,” she said.
Dan McKenzie, 35, spent his birthday at Heathrow on Wednesday trying to get a 40-minute flight to Belfast following a holiday in San Francisco.
“I feel the holiday memories have evaporated,” the decorator said.
He was given a sheet of foil to help keep him warm during a night on the airport’s floor, but he said he was not offered any food by British Airways.
“It is not a good advert for one of the biggest airport’s in the world,” he added.
Many people living in Britain returned home after their flights were canceled, not sure whether to return the following day, or give up completely.
David Page, a 43-year-old health worker from northern England, was trying to get to Gran Canaria for Christmas but has resigned himself to spending the time in Derby.
“Christmas has been canceled,” he said.
“I spent two hours queuing outside Terminal 2 in the cold waiting to be told I was going nowhere until possibly Christmas Eve,” he said. “It’s disgusting.”
For people using Britain for connections, the situation was even more fraught.
“I don’t know anyone in the UK,” said Rob Evans, 23. The student spent last night on the floor at Heathrow after arriving from Calgary to find his connecting flight to Hamburg was canceled.
“I feel too tired to be angry,” he said. “It was like the worst sleepover ever. I really hope I don’t have to return through London. Never again.”
He said tempers were so frayed that Lufthansa staff closed the check-in area and police were called in.
“Lufthansa were canceling planes all over the place. I know the fog is to blame — but that’s London weather for you.”
‘Christmas has been canceled’
Airport operator BAA, which runs Heathrow and six other airports in Britain, warned of overcrowding and delays for people visiting families for Christmas or leaving on holiday.
At least 350 of 1,300 flights at Heathrow were grounded.
“Christmas has been canceled,” said David Page, 43, a health worker from northern England after his flight to the Canary Islands was scrapped. “I’ll be spending a quiet Christmas in Derbyshire rather than on a beach in Gran Canaria.”
Flights were canceled at other British airports, including 30 in Scotland, as the disruption spread.
Car hire firms at Heathrow’s 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. Alamo said it had no cars left there.
Hotels at Heathrow said bookings were up by nearly a third and the bad weather looked set to continue.
“There’s always going to be a risk of fog over the next few days,” said a spokeswoman for Britain’s Met Office. “We’re going to keep the high pressure over the southeast up to the weekend and into next week.”
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