Dad’s Heathrow horror is a reminder of need for new London airport

A plane taking off at Heathrow Airport. The airline is barely able to cope with its passenger volumes when flights are going according to plan, let alone when they are cancelled. Photo: Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA Wire
A plane taking off at Heathrow Airport. The airline is barely able to cope with its passenger volumes when flights are going according to plan, let alone when they are cancelled. Photo: Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA Wire

Last Sunday an extraordinary thing happened to my parents as they flew back to Belfast from London.

They had been visiting my sister Claire, her fiance Mark and their son Rory, to celebrate his first birthday.

The Long Walk at Windsor, Berkshire, in the snowfall last weekend. Windsor is 12 miles from Heathrow, which was badly disrupted by the weather. Photo: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

The Long Walk at Windsor, Berkshire, in the snowfall last weekend. Windsor is 12 miles from Heathrow, which was badly disrupted by the weather. Photo: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

My mum wanted to visit a friend on the Sunday morning while dad, who is fit but not young, was keen to get back to Northern Ireland.

He was booked on the 1pm British Airways from Heathrow to Belfast City, and my sister left him there early, at 9am, before taking my mum to her friend. Mum was booked on the 3pm Aer Lingus.

Dad’s flight from Terminal Five was delayed and delayed. Just before 5pm it was cancelled. He had to wait in a long queue to get a hotel, to be told the nearest room was 40 minutes from Heathrow.

Meanwhile, mum’s flight, from Terminal Two, was delayed and delayed but went ahead.

The snow caused travel disruption across England. Above a road closed sign in snow covered Ironbridge in Shropshire on Sunday December 10. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire

The snow caused travel disruption across England. Above a road closed sign in snow covered Ironbridge in Shropshire on Sunday December 10. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire

Dad then had to queue almost an hour in the cold for a taxi. My sister, from afar, had found a nearer hotel, at Runnymede.

When dad got to the front of the line, the taxi driver was furious not to get a big fare into London, and demanded £36 for the 10 minute ride – take it or leave it. Mum was now back in NI, but both their phones had run out of charge.

Shattered, dad wad due to leave his hotel room the next morning (his 87th birthday) at 11am but got an extension to 1pm. His flight left Heathrow at 7.50pm and it was almost 10pm before he was home.

He had tried to get home before mum but ended up returning to Co Down long after her, and 36 hours after he turned up at Heathrow.

Dad shrugged it all off.

I think the big problem is Heathrow, which is barely able to cope when everything is going to plan, let alone when flights get cancelled.

Once again it is clear that the Boris Johnson plan should have been approved: shut Heathrow, turn it into good housing in a part of London that badly needs homes, and build a multiple runway, 24 hour airport in Thames Valley, with a spur link off the HS1 rail line that leads to both London and Paris.

• Ben Lowry (@BenLowry2) is News Letter deputy editor