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London Heathrow Faces Cancellations Due to Freezing Fog

More than 14,000 passengers have been affected by flight cancellations at London Heathrow (LHR) as the airport faces freezing temperatures and fog.

by Lauren Smith

January 23, 2023

London on a foggy Winter's day / Photo: Kobus Saayman/Shutterstock

On Sunday evening, London Heathrow (LHR) airport managers instructed carriers that they would have to reduce the number of flights they operated by around 15 percent due to poor visibility and air traffic control restrictions. British Airways (BA), the airport’s largest tenant, confirmed that it had axed at least 85 flights today, Monday, January 23, and was working to minimize disruption for travelers.

“Like other airlines, our schedule has been affected by the continued freezing fog weather conditions experienced across London,” a spokesperson said. “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.”

The British carrier is offering affected customers refunds or tickets on alternative flights and, in some cases, hotel accommodation and meal vouchers.

Among BA flights grounded were departures to Edinburgh (EDI), Geneva (GVA), Munich (MUC), Brussels (BRU), Madrid (MAD), Milan (MXP), Lisbon (LIS), Prague (PRG), Paris (CDG), and Frankfurt (FRA). One long-haul flight to Miami (MIA) was also axed.

London Heathrow LHR Airport Terminal 2 in the United Kingdom / Photo: Markus Mainka/Adobe Stock

Other airlines, including Air France, Scandinavian Airlines, United Airlines, KLM, Aer Lingus, and Lufthansa, also canceled flights to and from LHR today.

The Met Office—the U.K.’s national weather service—issued a yellow weather warning for freezing fog across parts of England, including the South East, Yorkshire, and the Midlands, in place from 2:00 AM GMT on Sunday until 11:00 AM on Monday. Visibility may fall as low as 50 meters (164 feet).

Freezing fog is a condition in which poor visibility is combined with freezing temperatures. Water droplets in the mist remain as water, clouding the skies and turning to ice on frozen surfaces, including the outsides of aircraft. Therefore, aircraft must be de-iced before departure, causing delays and capacity constraints.

Additionally, while planes can take off and land in foggy weather, pilots and air traffic controllers must rely on automated landing systems when visibility drops below a certain level. For this operation to run smoothly, the spacing between incoming airplanes must be increased by as much as 50 percent, according to NATS, a provider of air traffic control systems to U.K. airports.

Photo: Courtesy of Josue Isai Ramos Figueroa / Unsplash

This procedure inherently slows departures and arrivals, forcing the airlines to delay or cancel some flights arbitrarily.

“Poor visibility is forecast this morning at the airport and across the South East. While there may be minor changes to today’s schedule as a result of the weather, we want to reassure passengers that our colleagues are working in close collaboration with our airline and air traffic control partners to get them safely away on their journeys as quickly as possible,” said a spokesperson for Heathrow.

Meanwhile, overnight temperatures at Heathrow fell to -8.4°C (17°F), the lowest level since December 2010 and the lowest January night measured since 1987.

The weather hasn’t affected other London airports, including Gatwick (LGW) and City Airport (LCY).