Heathrow and other British airports will face fines running into tens of millions of pounds if they allow a repeat of the sort of disruption that ruined the travel plans of thousands of people after the heavy snowfall in the week before Christmas.
Philip Hammond, the transport secretary, announced that he is prepared to introduce fresh parliamentary legislation that would penalise airports for “service failure”.
He pledged a toughening of legislation in response to the outcry when the heaviest snowfall since 1981 earlier this month led to the closure of Heathrow, leaving 2,000 passengers stranded in cold terminal buildings.
Hammond told MPs last week that he understood why British Airways had cancelled all its flights on Saturday 18 December ahead of the closure of Heathrow by BAA, the airport operator. But he expressed irritation that it took so long for the airport to reopen. He added that BAA should have cut flight schedules earlier on 18 December to avoid the congestion that occurred when the heavy snow fell.