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Last Updated: Friday, 22 December 2006, 14:35 GMT
Little festive cheer at Heathrow
By Lucy Wilkins
BBC News, Heathrow airport

Magicians and entertainers are on hand, but they have a hard job lifting the spirits of fog-bound passengers at Heathrow Airport after three days of delays.

Marquee outside Terminal 1
Passengers were housed in marquees before check-in

Christmas cheer at Heathrow is thin on the ground as precious holiday time is spent shivering under a leaden sky for flights that may never take off, instead of in the warmth of family and friends.

A juggling magician is doing his best to liven up a group of stranded travellers in a car park outside Terminal One.

Two marquees cover the carpark, but a small heater in one provides little relief from the freezing weather.

Airport staff in fluorescent jackets and clutching papers of flight details are continuously providing travellers with updates while a widescreen television in one marquee is tuned to BBC News 24 and reminds passengers that other travellers throughout the country are suffering similar misery.

'Desperate'

For Sophia Bianchi, "desperate" describes her state of mind after a day spent waiting at Heathrow.

Travelling with her mother from Calgary in Canada to Milan, she is trying to cheer things up by wearing a Santa hat, but is frustrated that her special nine-day holiday is rapidly shrinking.

"This is the first time we have tried to have Christmas with our Italian family. They're really mad about the situation."

The mother and daughter arrived on Thursday at 1400 GMT but missed a connecting flight to Milan an hour later - as they stood in a long, slow queue to check-in their luggage for the flight it took off without them.

Stranded passengers
Blankets were handed out as the December chill bites

Friday's rebooked flight at 1500 GMT has since been cancelled but they are booked again for 0715 GMT on Saturday.

"We'll try tomorrow but otherwise I don't know what we'll do," said Ms Bianchi, as she clutched a blanket tighter around her shoulders.

Lynda Mitchinson, who is trying to reach Morocco, left her home in Teesside at 0200 GMT in a hire car after her flight to London was cancelled.

After a slow drive down in foggy, difficult conditions she sits wrapped in a scarf on a plastic chair in the marquee, no doubt dreaming of the relative warmth of Marrakech where she has a hotel booked for Christmas and the new year.

She's waiting for her 1500 GMT flight. "They've never said it's on schedule but they haven't said it's cancelled either."

'Always happy'

Savouring the warmth of the heater, German student Sandra Brauner has been waiting 24 hours to get on a flight home to Dusseldorf for Christmas.

She arrived from Vancouver on Wednesday to discover her connecting flight was cancelled.

She was rebooked on two further flights but they were also cancelled. "I would be so happy if the flight was today," she says.

Stranded passengers
Some were smiling through the delays and cold

She still has to be rebooked and could be here for a further day. However, as airport staff handed out blankets, she said: "They're doing a great job. We should give them praise."

Other people seem generally pleased. A group of Irish workers, two wearing Santa hats with flashing lights, have only an hour to wait outside before their flight to Dublin.

They pause from their joking to listen to the announcements about flight check-ins.

"We're happy, but Irish people are always happy - although we did have to buy our own tea," one says.

Brightly dressed entertainers were moving through the crowds in an effort to take people's minds off their predicament.

Wendy Abrahams, wearing a red Stetson, festooned with a feather boa and fairy wings, deftly bends a balloon into a flower and is optimistic in her outlook.

"Yesterday everyone was so glum and depressed, but the fog is lifting and today the sprits are definitely up," she says.

Paul and Kathryn Warren, wrapped in blankets and eating sandwiches, look like they've been waiting for hours, but only arrived 30 minutes ago.

They drove from South Wales to arrive early for their 1500 GMT flight to Marrakech.

It's a little confusing, there's contradictory information, and I don't know why we can't be somewhere inside the terminal
Andreas Brandt
Stranded passenger

"We came early because we knew there was fog. The disappointing thing is that we booked and paid for an airport lounge but we can't use it until we book in," they say.

They're optimistic they will be in Marrakech for Christmas as planned, but say a friend has offered them a place at his Christmas dinner table if they don't make it.

Clutching a cup of hot tea in one of the temporary marquees set up for waiting passengers, Andreas Brandt is less impressed with his situation.

He arrived from Hong Kong at 0600 GMT intending to fly on at 0730 GMT to Dusseldorf in Germany. He does not know when he will be making that journey.

"It's a little confusing, there's contradictory information, and I don't know why we can't be somewhere inside the terminal. I'm not satisfied."

Most people seem resigned to the unwelcome delay - but the hope is it won't last much longer.


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
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