back to article 'Wrong amount of snow' caused Heathrow chaos

BAA chief executive Colin Matthews has apologised for the chaos at Heathrow Airport last December, which saw thousands of passengers stranded by an unforeseen depth of snow. The BBC, which earlier brilliantly summarised that "flights were grounded at Heathrow in December due to the wrong amount of snow", but has now decided to …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    how much pain ?

    "I wisely decided not even to bother going to Heathrow, and hit the boozer instead"

    The article was pretty tame, I guess you got full compensation from your insurer...

    1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

      Re: how much pain ?

      Not for the beer, no.

  2. Anonymous Coward


    Maybe if BAA spent more time actually dealing with stuff like this, and in improving the facilities for the poor sods that have to fight through their airports (like more aisles at the security checks) then we'd all rub along a lot better.

    Alternatively, they could just carry on spending enormous amounts of effort and floor space trying to flog the previously noted poor sods anything and everything at every bloody opportunity. No, I DON'T want a bloody raffle ticket for a Porsche; I want my flight to be on time!! The huge bottle of whisky to dull the pain of travelling through this hell-hole would be handy, except I'd risk being turned-away at the gate for being pissed!!

    1. Naughtyhorse

      lemmie guess

      When BAA go buy a squillion squds worth of snow ploughs to tackle events with a 30 year return, and then increase their charges to cover the cost(they are a business? yes?)

      Asshats like you will be at the front of the queue whining about the cost of flying.

      the post a couple below this asks the right question:-

      What the fuck did people expect after fighting through the snow to get to the fucking airport in the first place? do you _really_ think it's easier to hit a 2 mile strip of sniow covered tarmac in a snow covered field in a jet airliner than find exit 4 of the M4 in a family car?

      1. Anonymous Coward


        Well, I've never been called an asshat before - I must get out more.

        BAA are indeed a business, but they make millions and millions of your earth pounds every year. They also operate with a license from the government and as such they also have a considerable social responsibility. They are effectively a monopoly if you happen to need to travel from one of their airports, and as air flight is pretty important these days, they should take responsibility for what they are supposed to be doing.

        As for your uninformed comment about fighting to the airport when it was snowing, I think I remember correctly in saying that BAA insisted at the time that flights WOULD be leaving, right up to the point when it became obvious that they would not, by which time thousands of poor sods had already made their way to the airport to be greeted with bugger-all facilities (but I'm sure you could buy a raffle ticket or a bottle of perfume - very useful, I'm sure). And what choice do the poor sods have anyway? If they didn't get to the airport and the flight left without them, would they get their money back? I think we all know the answer to that one; I'm sure even you do.

        And finally - cost: Like many people, I don't mind paying for something as long as it works. I don't like paying for something that fails and has an implied "get stuffed" clause in the contract. Take most public transport in somewhere like Germany. No, it's not cheap, but it's an extreme exception for it not to be on time, and if something does go wrong, they bloody well fix it.

    2. Mr Larrington

      And while we're at it...

      ...I have no doubt that the acres of empty space in the non-airside part of T5 are architecturally wonderful, Lord bloody Rogers, but the provision of a few seats wouldn't go amiss for those of us who neither want nor need to belt through security[1] as soon as we get into the smegging building. Wankspanner.

      1 - Smokers, for example.

  3. Luther Blissett

    "the red-faced BAA supremo"

    Can't be on meths with his salary. He'll be still full of Xmas cheer then.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This isn't the title you are looking for.

    The airports could have saved a whole lot of money if, you know, they'd actually cleared the snow rather than doing the usual slacker Brit thing of sitting on their fat asses whinging about what a disaster it all was whilst drinking a really nice, hot cup of tea.

    1. Blofeld's Cat

      Xmas cheer?

      Can I just say BAA Humbug!

      It's the sleeping bag with three airport novels under the pillow.

    2. David Simpson 1

      Why so serious ?

      What would you recommend you clear them with ? While tons more snow is falling ?

      Idiots who fight to get to the airports in extreme weather need to learn to do the typical British thing and sit on their arse with a nice cup of tea and accept the flight is not happening.

      1. Dagg

        Remember half the traffic lands

        What about the poor idiots flying in from the other side of the world. They would have left 24-36 hours before any problems had occurred and then get screwed over by heathrows crap management.

        I've had this happen at least twice before with heathrow and they still don't get it. These days I plan to fly using any other British airport.

      2. Richard 12 Silver badge

        @David Simpson. You missed the point rather spectacularly there.

        BAA *insisted* that the flights *were* going to happen, and if you the lowly passenger realise that BAA are living in cloud-cuckoo land and don't go to the airport on time like you so wisely suggested, guess what - no refunds, and your travel insurance may not pay out either.

        Until the moment your airline announces that the flight is cancelled, if you don't turn up - you are screwed. I don't know about you, but I can't afford to risk losing several thousand pounds on the assumption that BAA are idiots and don't know their own capacity to keep Heathrow Airport running.

        If you aren't checked in by the required check-in time, you're not going to get a refund - even if the flight is later cancelled.

        Everyone in that airport had a confirmed flight when they left home. Some of them got cancelled during their trip, others after they got to the airport. Either way, they had *no choice* but to go to the airport - often leaving early because of the poor weather.

        As to me - I was stuck in Frankfurt, listening to the poor airline staff trying to figure out what the heck was going on at Heathrow so they could re-route me in a way that might actually happen - ie *not* a BAA airport.

        1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

          @Dave Simpson

          I'm just adding my voice to those who have quite correctly informed you that you are wrong on this one. Might we have an apology?

    3. Anonymous Coward

      @ Anonymous twit.

      The army volunteered to clear the snow from the runways gut BAA management refused their help.

      I wish people would learn the facts rather than make themselves look stupid and bigoted.

  5. Captain Underpants

    This article was more polite than the goat-molesters deserved, tbh

    I was going to say - as someone who got the joy of second-order weather-induced Travel Bollocks (ie flights cancelled due to inclement weather at an airport that was neither my origin nor destination, but at which the plane I was supposed to be boarding was apparently stuck), the tone of this item seemed entirely appropriate. It's frankly a bit silly that BAA seem continually fucking surprised that England has shit weather, and their inability to acknowledge that they've made a total balls of things without at least a 3-month runup to said admission is even more galling.

    Bitter? Who, me? Naaah.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Fully support this sentiment....

      The one thing you do know about British weather is 'It changes'. One Oaks in Kent is testament to that. There is no real, acceptable excuse for what went wrong. It merely demonstrates that BAA lacked agility then. (and probably still do now?)

      The blighter may have been unwilling to publicly admit culpability on the basis that there are legal matters outstanding and, even in the House of Commons, he cannot risk loose lips sinking his very holed ship.

      1. MadonnaC

        Definately changeable

        I remember a forecast for sunshine, hail, snow and sleet in the same day - and the forecaster got them all right !

  6. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    So I guess that in this case....

    The wrong amount of snow was "some"?


  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    BAA forgot a couple of things

    Did he mention they have a under runway heating system that would solve this but they just decided not to bother plugging it in and turning it on? Did he mention that planes and staff were diverted away from getting the airport running for 1000's of people for just 10 people on a 'Royal' jet from somewhere where it never snows? No...ah what a surprise.

    1. David Simpson 1

      Ummmm ?

      The heating system is for frost and mild ice not three days worth of heavy snow.

      I take it from your bitterness you were much to stupid just to stay at home and cancel your own flight.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Didn't, ... Wasn't, ...

    Wasn't there another airport close by not managed by BAA that coped admirably with the same or similar type snow?

  9. David Simpson 1


    The thing that is funniest is the people who were so snowed in they could barely make it to the airport, still went to the airport.

    In future folks just cancel your appointments and stay at home, we certainly don't need to be spending millions on snowploughs that might sit unused for ten years, people in this country just need to learn if you book a holiday in the depth of winter then get some insurance so when the snow starts falling you can just stay at home like any other sensible person.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Down

      BAA shill?

      It's easy to say "just stay at home", but most travel insurance policies won't pay out for what they consider to be "disinclination to fly". Until BAA or an airline formally says "your flight won't happen, stay at home" people have no choice but to head for the airport, or lose the cost of their trip (which could include much more than the flight).

      Of course the airlines never want to take the hit until the last minute, and the airport operators can't take the decsion for the airlines, so they never give people a straight message, leaving most people with little choice but to try and get to the airport just in case.

  10. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Business case

    The trouble is that it's not expensive for BAA to not have flights.

    The airport makes most of it's money form the shopping and parking - it needs flights because otherwise people might not visit it's shopping centers - but it doesn't need any particular flights.

    So spending 10X quid to clear runways for flights paying X quid in landing fees isn't worth it. Unless it happens often enough for people to stop flying there then it makes more sense to not bother.

    It might even turn out that it made more money out of the delays than it would have done from the flights if all those stranded people bought enough meals and giant Tolberones

  11. Tequila Joe

    Lessons will be learned

    Next time BAA will have 'anti-terrorist' security staff ready to confiscate mobile phones so the BAA lies about how well they look after their customers go unchallenged in the media.

    Actually, at the time, I was surprised how much coverage the BBC gave to mobile phone footage from inside Heathrow and BAA's reaction to the snow, but now the SCAMMERs* (TM) have started pushing the line that ALL nasty weather is due to MMGW/CAGW I see that coverage didn't go against the BBC agenda.

    *Science Corrupting, Alarmist, MoneyMilking-Emergency Religion

  12. MikeSM

    More importantly

    Was it the wrong type of snow?

  13. kwhitefoot

    Greetings from Norway

    The guy who runs the snow clearing operation at Gardermoen (Oslo's airport) reckons that his crew would have cleared Heathrow in less than an hour. It's just a question of investing in the right equipment and the proper processes and manpower to make it effective.

    Flying from Norway to the UK at Christmas I was stunned by the total incompetence of the snow clearing operations at Stansted , not to mention the ridiculously inadequate equipment. Compared to the practically balletic evolutions of the Norwegian snowploughs at Torp the pair of totally inneffective tractors with brushes at Stansted was just laughable.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Norwegians are better at clearing snow than Brits? Holy smokes! It's outrageous!

      I mean... I don't know what level of gear they had at BAA, but complaining that it's not as good as in Norway is like complaining that Puerto Ricans don't know what to do about sub-zero temperatures. Ever-more-expensive perparedness for ever-less-likely events can be a losing proposition. The fact that mo' snow blow in Oslo is neither here nor there.

    2. It wasnt me
      Thumb Down

      Absolutely fascinating.

      Yet utterly fucking irrelevant.

      Why would the UK invest as much money as oslo in snow moving equipment? Its only that bad every 30 odd years. I expect the spanish could could teach your lot a thing or two about beach grooming, or the tunisians could teach you about date palm husbandry. But you dont see them bleating irrelevancies on internet message boards do you?

      1. kwhitefoot

        It's not merely a question of investment ...

        it is a question of organization. And in this respect BAA are utterly lacking. They were not using the equipment they had as effectively as they could and they were not keeping the public properly informed, again a failure not of physical resources but of organization.

        And no, comparisons with others who do something better is not irrelevant, it is very much to the point because if you don't look at how others do things you will have to reinvent everything.

        I'm fully aware that conditions are not identical in the two countries but it has become a cliche that the UK can't deal properly with bad weather because it happens so rarely but is it really the case? If it is how come the same excuses get trotted out so frequently, surely the excuses should be as rare as the events are claimed to be.

        As for the beaches and the date palms I agree they are quite irrelevant. Also it is certainly less than 30 years since there was chaos in the British transport system due to snow.

  14. Clive Galway

    Hang on a minute...

    If 6cm or 10cm fall, surely that is still only one pass of a snowplough to clear it? Surely depth (To a certain point) has no correlation to the area one has to clear?

  15. VeganVegan

    We know that it rains in Spain (on the plain), but

    it's amusing to note that snow does bother parts of Spain... (Google "snow in Spain").

    Maybe BAA's parent company can learn a thing or two even in its home country.

  16. Mr Young


    Slippery stuff when trying to drive - it must be even worse if you're trying to land a big flying metal bird thingy

  17. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    @Hang on a minute.

    Snow ploughs don't remove snow - they move it to the side.

    So if you have 10cm of snow and plough it - you now have 20cm of snow along side the plough.

    Runways are typically 50m wide - so if you plough the snow off them into a 1m wide bank on the edge then 10cm of snow is going to be 2.5m high on each side. But you can't have walls of snow along the side of the runways in case a plane goes a bit off course. So where do you put it?

    Then you have to clear all the taxiways and aprons and clear the grass between the runways for emergency access.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      not quite

      Snow is at least half air, it compresses well.. You can plough a 5m wide road, and leave a 50cm pile at the side of it, they do it round my way every winter. With a decent snow blower that can throw the snow a few tens of metres you'll have even less of a problem.

    2. Jon Smit

      Wot - no tardis ?

      Most of the whingers believe that the snow disappears once it's swept off the road/runways. According to the BBC - Helsinki airport routinely removes up to 7,000 truckloads of snow. I don't know about Helsinki, but has anyone got suggestions as to where the Heathrow snow could be dumped, bearing in mind that the roads around the airport where jammed solid with morons trying to fly?

  18. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Greetings from Norway

    Apart form being a lot smaller than Heathrow, Oslo airport expects snow.

    How much extra above the current 10quid/passenger landing fee would you pay for a bunch of snow moving equipment that might get used once per decade?

  19. LRanger
    Thumb Down

    Where Was The Snow?

    After being stranded due to this for 3 nights in Gothenburg Sweden, I was expecting to meet polar conditions at LHR. In reality I had difficulty seeing any of the white stuff.

    This is even more of a reason to avoid LHR as a hub, besides being worse than many 3rd world airports.

    Why could Gatwick 50 km down the road still be operating flights?

  20. Herby Silver badge

    They nead a "Snowbine"

    I saw Top Gear last night here in the USA, and they had their version of a snowplow. It seemed to work OK in Norway, plowing a road. The problem is that they didn't understand the fine points of building a snowplow. To eradicate LARGE amounts of snow, one uses a rotary snowplow which takes the snow and throws it over the edge of the road. The simple plow (and the snowbine demonstrated) just push stuff out of the way, and just delays the problem for a while.

    While snow doesn't happen too often in the London area, those who do attempt to handle it might want to look at a place that deals with it yearly (we here in California have nice mountain passes to try out schemes!).

  21. kain preacher Silver badge

    This just in

    BAA sues god and nature. Since now one showed up summary judgement was given to BAA. When the CEO of BAA walked out of court her was struck 17 times my lighting. Oddly the burn patterns on his chest spells out don't f with things you dont understand. THis has sent shock waves through out the business world as CEOs offten miss with things they do not understand.

    1. Olafthemighty

      Yeah, but...

      They had a flamethrower on the back!

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Colin Matthews is quoted saying about the snow during the storm:

    "Ain't that cute? But it's wrong!"

    I guess what he is really saying is that there should be a full refund, no questions asked policy when the product does not match their expectations. And if God makes the weather and the policy is sensible, I want the same policy applicable to Santa too.

  23. SImon Hobson Silver badge

    Risk assessment went wrong

    What it comes down to, is BAA decided not to invest a relatively modest mount in snow clearing equipment. They made an assessment, and figured it was unlikely to be needed.

    Unfortunately for them, and all the passengers affected, the gamble didn't pay off. By the time they've paid compensation to the airlines*, it's going to cost them a heck of a lot more than the right equipment would have cost them. Whilst the equipment might be expensive, by the time you've depreciated that over the many years it should last if properly looked after, it would have cost very little (probably only pocket change from the management bonuses).

    I can understand their reluctance to accept help from the army though. The Army probably don't possess the specialist gear either, and wold have been in there scraping the runways with diggers and such. The scope for damage, both to the runway surface and to the lighting, would be considerable. To be effective, the snow has to be cleared to quite a tiny amount - far less than you can achieve with a blade set to a height where it won't cause any damage. That's why you see those machines with blowers and brushes.

    * I think we can be fairly certain that all the affected airlines will be suing the airport for compensation.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    For want of a nail....

    The horse was lost.

    I am surprised they have not yet blamed "terrorists" and Immigrants for their plight. Typically British disease. After 9/11, its been noticed that every incompetent Manager/Executive blames the system/fear/percieved threat to hide their inability to cope.

    Spinmeister B******s all.

    Paris, cos she can hide her faults with makeup.

  25. Anonymous Coward

    @David Simpson 1: Are you genuinely an idiot?

    Or is it just that you've never read an airline's Conditions of Carriage or travel insurance terms and conditions?

    If you cancel the flight yourself or don't turn up, you'll lose all those rights to a refund and assistance, and your travel insurance almost certainly won't pay out.

    I suggest that you read the aforementioned documents before making any more bloody stupid suggestions.

  26. Leona A

    UK and snow bad combination.

    It wasn't just the air ports struggling, we can not even keep our road and pavements clear in weather like this, so how do you think we are going keep an airport open.

    This country just can not cope with extreme weather, our government is short sighted, doesn't take advice from scientists and does not plan ahead, well not longer than term in power!

    We have a very good weather service here, 80%+ accuracy, its about them the authorities paid attention to it, and acted upon the information given, the bad weather WAS forecast, they knew it was coming, but still decided to sit on their big fat behinds and do absolutely nothing!

    They shouldn't be saying sorry, they should be sacking people, as Scotland quite rightly did!

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