Virgin withholds Heathrow fees over snow chaos: report

10th January 2011, Comments 0 comments

Virgin Atlantic will stop paying its bills to Heathrow until the airport's operator explains why one heavy snowfall stranded thousands of passengers for days just before Christmas, a report said Monday.

Richard Branson's airline has written to operator BAA, saying it plans to withhold landing and parking charges until it sees the results of an inquiry into the disruption, to be published in March, reported the Financial Times.

"We've told BAA we are going to hold back some of the moneys we owe them," Virgin's chief executive Steve Ridgway told the paper, in a sign airlines are hitting back after a shutdown that cost them millions of dollars.

"Because while we accept, and indeed we did, step up to our responsibilities to look after our customers, we feel they should also feel some of that accountability."

One day of heavy snowfall on December 18 triggered chaos at Heathrow, all but closing the world's busiest international passenger airport for several days and leaving thousands of angry passengers to bed down in terminals.

The shutdown dealt a heavy financial blow to airlines as they bore costs such as giving refunds and rescheduling flights.

Virgin expects the chaos will have cost it a minimum of 10 million pounds (15.5 million dollars, 12 million euros), according to Ridgway.

In response to Virgin's plans, Spanish-owned BAA told the Financial Times: "Heathrow's conditions of use do not provide any basis for Virgin Atlantic or any other airline to withhold airport charges."

BAA announced the probe into the snow shutdown immediately after the chaos.

Ridgway said he wanted the inquiry to get to the bottom of what happened and spell out "when the airport reasonably should have reopened."

"Then we want compensation for all the costs we unnecessarily incurred after that," he said.

"We're going to do that by holding back the fees we pay BAA and when the inquiry comes out we will happily sit down and work out what the right numbers are."

© 2011 AFP

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