Oliver Smith, The Daily Telegraph, July 31, 2013
Passengers at London City Airport are being routinely denied boarding due to safety concerns caused by the hot weather.
On Sunday 15 passengers were removed from a Swiss flight to Geneva after the plane was deemed too heavy to take off. Airlines have admitted it is a recurring problem that has been exacerbated by the recent heat wave.
London City’s single 4,900-foot runway is one of the smallest in the country, meaning many larger aircraft models cannot use it. By comparison Gatwick’s runway is 10,879 feet and Heathrow’s are 12,008 feet and 12,799 feet.
In hot weather it often takes longer for a plane to take off, meaning – as was the case on Sunday – passengers may need to be offloaded to reduce the aircraft’s weight.
“Due to weather conditions, the take-off weight of the aircraft had to be reduced due to safety reasons,” said a spokeswoman for Swiss. “In very high temperatures it usually takes longer until the aircraft can actually take-off, and since London City Airport has a short airstrip the take-off weight needed to be reduced. Geneva Airport was facing heavy thunderstorms at the same time which also had an impact on the take-off weight.”
She said Swiss had “faced similar situations in the past” due to adverse winds but “only at London City” airport.
One passenger on board Sunday’s affected flight claimed bags were also removed from the plane, but Swiss denied this. “We were told the plane was overweight by a tonne,” she said. “A ground handler said it's happening every day from London City because in bad weather the pilots need a lot of fuel, and can't take off from City with a lot of fuel and a full plane of passengers. So every day passengers and baggage are being offloaded.”
A spokesman for CityJet, which flies from the airport to destinations including Edinburgh, Paris, Milan, Florence, Amsterdam and Dublin, said the problem – which affects the airline's 15 Fokker 50 aircraft, but not its 23 Avro RJ85s – occurs on a “weekly or monthly, but not daily” basis. He added that the airline had taken a number of steps to reduce the weight of its planes – including installing lighter seating – and said that when such a situation arises, economy passengers are offloaded in favour of premium ones. A British Airways spokesman said it was “an extremely rare occurrence that we would have to remove customers from a flight due to operating restrictions at the airport.”
A spokesman for London City Airport said its location meant that an extension to the runway “would never happen”.
Passengers denied boarding in such instances must be offered a choice of a full refund or an alternative flight. If they choose to take the next available flight, they are entitled to assistance while they wait – including food, drink and accommodation where necessary. They are also entitled to cash compensation (see below).
The Civil Aviation Authority said: “Airlines are responsible for operating aircraft within the manufacturer’s stated restrictions. This includes maximum take-off and landing weights, but operators must also consider other variables such as the length of the runway, any obstacles that must be cleared during the initial climb-out phase, wind speed and direction, elevation, and the outside air temperature.”
What if I am "bumped" off my flight?
As last week's Swiss flight demonstrates, weather issues will sometimes force airlines to deny passengers boarding. Furthermore, some airlines – though not normally the no-frills airlines – will overbook peak-time flights because their computer models tell them that a certain number of passengers will not show up. But computers sometimes get it wrong. If more passengers turn up than there are seats available, some have to be "bumped off".
If this happens to you, you are entitled to significant compensation under EU rules (which apply to the same countries' airlines and airports as specified above).
The compensation varies between €125 and €600 depending on the length of the delay to your final destination and the distance of the flight.
An airline is allowed to negotiate a lower rate with passengers who volunteer to be removed, but in all cases, in addition to compensation, you are entitled to "a refund within seven days of the full price you paid for your ticket" or "a return flight to the departure airport as soon as possible... or re-routing to your final destination as soon as possible or, if you agree, at a later date".
The airline must also pay for reasonable incidental expenses such as meals and hotel accommodation.
See caa.co.uk/passengers for more information.