London, Aug. 10: A fleet of lorries hired by British Airways was on its way to the Continent last night to reunite passengers with their luggage up to a week after they flew out of Heathrow.
More than 6,000 delayed suitcases, backpacks and hold-alls were still at the airport, despite the emergency switch of more than 100 managers and supervisors to help clear the backlog.
The problems began with the cancellation of 105 flights last Tuesday and Wednesday because of the severe storms.
Many passengers had checked in their luggage when the cancellations were announced. By the time they departed on substitute services, their bags had not been retrieved.
By Saturday, the backlog was dwindling. But a conveyor belt broke down at Terminal Four and took six hours to repair. As a result, thousands of passengers setting off on family holidays took off without their bags. That night more than 15,000 items of luggage had accumulated.
With subsequent departures already fully loaded, British Airways has had difficulty finding space to fly the bags out to their owners.
So a decision was taken to hire six lorries to transport some of the luggage to destinations in Europe and four others to cities in Scotland and the regions.
Cargo aircraft are being chartered to fly bags to Florida and elsewhere in America.
Some short-break travellers had not received their luggage by the time they returned to Heathrow.
A London couple who left for Copenhagen last Wednesday returned to London on Sunday to find their bags were still at Heathrow.
“The crazy thing is that because it had been security cleared and sorted into a container, we understand it will probably have to go to Copenhagen and come back before it can be sent on to us.”
BA said it hoped to clear the backlog within 48 hours.
Unions are balloting more than 12,000 baggage handlers, check-in and clerical staff for a strike over a BA pay offer of 8.5 per cent over three years.
The result is expected next week and could lead to walk-outs from the August Bank Holiday.
From tomorrow the airline is to raise its long-haul fuel surcharge from £5 per to £12 to reflect surging oil prices. Virgin Atlantic has announced an identical increase and other long-distance carriers are expected to follow.
Jet fuel has risen by 45 per cent in 12 months but intense competition on domestic and European routes has forced BA to leave the short-haul surcharge at £5.