Virgin Atlantic withholding fees from Heathrow airport owner in dispute about snow reaction

The Canadian Press ~ OBJ
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LONDON - Virgin Atlantic Airways said Monday that it won't pay fees to the owner of Heathrow airport because of what it sees as a slow reaction to heavy snow last month.

Airport owner BAA Ltd. says the airline has no right to withhold payments.

Heavy snow grounded aircraft at Europe's busiest airport on Dec. 18, and Heathrow's second runway was out of action until Dec. 21. Hundreds of flights were cancelled and travellers were stranded for days.

BAA has commissioned an independent investigation of the problems, which is expected to be completed in March.

"We have written to BAA this weekend to advise them that we are withholding our fees from the airport operator until its inquiry into the snow enforced runway closures in December is completed,'' a Virgin Atlantic statement said.

"Despite the airport operating conditions being way beyond our control, Virgin Atlantic is taking responsibility by paying out millions to customers that suffered disruption to their Christmas travel plans. We are keen that BAA also feels a strong sense of accountability to the consumer and that minds are focused on delivering a fully independent and robust inquiry by its deadline in March.''

BAA responded: "Heathrow's conditions of use do not provide any basis for Virgin Atlantic or any other airline to withhold airport charges.''

Steve Ridgway, Virgin's chief executive, told the Financial Times that the investigation should determine what was a reasonable time for clearing away the snow. Ridgway said the airline will be seeking compensation for the interruption of its operations beyond that time.

Organizations: Virgin Atlantic Airways, Financial Times

Geographic location: Heathrow, LONDON, Europe

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