Heathrow Airport operator BAA has faced growing demands from the trade for an inquiry into its handling of the snow and ice that saw UK airports grind to a halt this week.

Around five inches of snow which fell on Saturday prompted chaotic scenes at the airport, which had only one of its two runways operational for three days.

Hundreds of flights were cancelled, causing disruption to the plans of hundreds of thousands of travellers in the run up to Christmas.

Yesterday the airport’s boss Colin Matthews turned down his annual bonus, admitting there had been “unacceptable conditions for passengers”.

But with more arctic weather predicted over the Christmas period there have been calls for a full inquiry into the airport’s preparedness for extreme weather.  

Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer said:  “The disruption caused by the weather appears to have been made worse by a lack of preparedness and information for customers.

“The test of any system is how resilient it is under stressed conditions. Heathrow seems to have failed spectacularly.

 “Christmas is a peak season for travel, and scenes of thousands of stranded passengers, whose holiday plans are in disarray, have sent alarm signals to the travelling public, and seriously dented consumer confidence.

“The confused situation at Heathrow has placed an additional burden and costs on ABTA members as they try to rebook their customers on scarce flights.

“2010 has been characterised by a number of extreme conditions which have caused widespread cancellations, and left passengers stranded at home and abroad.
“The welfare of the travelling public is Abta’s primary concern, and the association has called for a full review of the structural and regulatory framework that supports the travelling public when en route and overseas.”

His comments were echoed by Travel Counsellors chairman David Speakman who said: “The industry should insist on a public inquiry and find out where the fault lies.

“Then customers, airlines and agents will be able to seek legal redress for the repercussions. It seems noble that the chief executive Colin Matthews foregoes his bonus when he represents his employers and therefore logically they should forego their profits and pay for the hardship suffered by all.

“If the airport has been negligent then the customers should have redress, and only a public inquiry will be impartial enough to decide if there was a case to answer.”

Bmi chief executive Wolfgang Prock-Schauer described the situation at Heathrow as “completely unacceptable,” reportedly saying: “BAA was not prepared. It did not have enough de-icing fluid.”

And Prime Minister David Cameron expressed his “frustration” at the length of the disruption at Heathrow.