Chaos reigned at London’s Heathrow Airport as long delays forced passengers to leave the terminal without their luggage.
Travellers on Sunday described staff shortages, missing baggage and passengers waiting for hours on the airport floor just days before Christmas.
After hours of waiting, people were advised to head home and wait for a courier to bring their bags, or book a hotel and claim the money back later from British Airways, which uses Heathrow as a hub.
The airline apologised to customers for the chaos, which added to frustration for winter holidaymakers after restrictions linked to the spread of the Omicron variant forced some to cancel their plans.
British Airways said the problems were caused by “operational constraints”, which are understood to have included weather disruption and staff sickness. Britain has piled up record numbers of Covid-19 infections in recent days, forcing many people into isolation.
“Our teams are working extremely hard to reunite customers with their baggage as quickly as possible,” a British Airways spokesman said. Heathrow said the baggage problems were a matter for the airline.
One passenger, biomedical science student Jack Lawrence, was locked out of his home for 24 hours and counting after the luggage containing his keys failed to arrive.
He was forced to call off his trip to Zurich, Switzerland, after his flight was cancelled just 10 minutes before it was due to begin boarding.
“It was utter chaos,” Mr Lawrence told The National on Monday. “There were five members of staff on duty at baggage reclaim to deal with hundreds of passengers.
“We were informed BA had run out of hotel rooms in the London area so people would need to find their own accommodations and seek reimbursement at a later date.
“PA announcements were made encouraging people to leave for the night and that their bags would be couriered to them when found. Mine is still missing almost 24 hours later - with no updates on its status.”
Some people waited for hours sitting on their luggage, baggage trolleys or the floor, he said, with a trolley of snacks eventually brought out for those waiting.
Other passengers expressed frustration over a lack of information over the long delays.
Joanne Westeng said she had waited three hours for her elderly mother to arrive from a domestic flight. There was “zero information from BA and complete lack of personnel to ask” in the arrivals area, she said.
Another passenger, Natalia Kaliada, said people had been strongly advised to leave without their baggage.
She said she left the airport after almost three hours of waiting and was told to fill in an online form with British Airways.
Heathrow is the busiest airport in the UK, but passenger numbers slumped during the pandemic.
Airport chief executive John Holland-Kaye said this month that travel would not return to normal until all coronavirus-related checks were scrapped.