With freezing temperatures and fog affecting much of the UK today, London Heathrow Airport appears to be bearing the brunt of delays and cancellations, with over 12,000 passengers affected so far.
It’s cold outside…
With the UK currently in the grip of an icy blast from Scandinavia, much of the country has been affected by plunging overnight temperatures and freezing fog. Temperatures reached as low as minus eight degrees celsius (17 degrees fahrenheit) in some places, with much of the southeast of England also being covered in a thick blanket of freezing fog.
Consequently, passengers at London Heathrow Airport have faced delays and cancellations all morning so far, with knock-on delays expected throughout the rest of the day. More than 12,000 passengers hoping to fly with British Airways and other airlines are experiencing widespread disruption to their plans.
More than 80 British Airways flights have been affected so far at the time of writing (10:00 GMT). Flights departing to various European destinations, including Amsterdam, Brussels, Berlin, and Rome, are affected, along with flights to long-haul locations, including Miami, New York (JFK), and Nairobi also affected.
A second day of disruption
Today’s delays and cancellations follow similar disruption that occurred yesterday, Sunday, January 22nd, at Heathrow. As a result of yesterday’s weather-related issues, 70 departing flights were delayed, with 20 departures being canceled on Sunday evening as the fog settled and visibility dropped at the airport.
Given the numerous cancellation of evening departures, primarily to domestic and European destinations, this had a knock-on effect on the inbound flights due to return to Heathrow on Monday morning. Arrivals of flights from cities including Bologna, Larnaca, Madrid, and Warsaw were all heavily delayed, with some expected to be at least 14 hours late.
Speaking in response to the ongoing issues being experienced at Hearthwo this morning, a British Airways spokesperson said,
“Like other airlines, our schedule has been affected by the continued freezing fog weather conditions experienced across London. We’ve apologized to customers whose flights have been affected and are doing everything we can to get them on their way as quickly as possible. We advise customers to check ba.com for the latest flight information.”
What does the forecast say?
While freezing fog is not uncommon in the UK at this time of year, the extremely low overnight temperatures are somewhat unprecedented. Such climatic anomalies exert additional strain on airport infrastructure and particularly at Heathrow, which is already struggling under bouts of recent industrial action along with adverse winter weather and a chronic lack of trained staff.
Services such as airport operations, snow clearing, and aircraft de-icing are some of the first to be impacted in the UK when the temperatures drop. After all, airports are reluctant to invest in huge numbers of snow ploughs and de-icing rigs in a country such as the UK when they might usually only be needed a handful of days each year.
A yellow Meteorological Office weather warning for freezing fog is in place across England until 11:00 on Monday, with a warning of hazardous driving conditions and general disruption to travel. The operator of London’s primary international air hub will be hoping that the forecasters are correct.
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Photo: Jakov Fabinger / Simple Flying
What is freezing fog?
According to the UK’s Meteorological Office, freezing fog forms the same way as regular fog when the land cools overnight under clear skies. If there are clear skies, the heat radiates back into space, leading to cooling at the earth’s surface. Freezing fog is most likely where there is high pressure, little wind, and sub-zero temperatures.
This results in a reduction of the air’s ability to hold moisture which allows water vapor to condense into tiny water droplets, eventually leading to the formation of fog. When fog forms in temperatures that are below freezing, the tiny water droplets in the air remain liquid.
They become supercooled water droplets remaining liquid even though they are below freezing temperature. This occurs because liquid needs a surface to freeze upon. When droplets from freezing fog freeze onto surfaces, a white deposit of feathery ice crystals are formed.
Photo: Mark Agnor / Shutterstock
This is referred to as rime icing. Rime is a characteristic of freezing fog and is often seen on vertical surfaces exposed to the wind. It can be particularly hazardous to aviation as it can occur both on the ground and in certain conditions in the air.
Aircraft are fitted with ant-icing systems for precisely this reason, although the process of de-icing assists with clearing ice from the flying control surfaces of aircraft when it occurs on the ground.
Have you been affected by the adverse weather at Heathrow today? Have you been kept updated about the disruption to your flight? Tell us about your experience in the comments.
Sources: UK Meteorological Office, Flightradar 24, London Heathrow Airport