Turmoil besets London's Heathrow

U.S. travelers are suffering on miserably crowded and late planes this summer, with record delays for domestic flights. Just be grateful you aren't flying through London's Heathrow Airport, where it's far worse, with passengers enduring...

Although the family arrived in Switzerland days late and exhausted, the rest of their vacation was "fabulous," said Friedman until it was time to fly home to Seattle from Rome, changing planes at Heathrow. Both British Airways flights were canceled (a freak summer storm had upended Heathrow schedules).

Managing to get a substitute flight from Rome to London, the family plunged into the Heathrow chaos. "In a repeat of our arrival, we were shepherded downstairs with thousands of other stranded travelers to go through customs and pick up our luggage ... and then to wait in a ridiculous line for hours in the bleak hope that when you got to the front the sales rep would be able to take care of us," said Friedman.

Finally snagging a sympathetic British Airways staffer who was doing crowd control, they were booked onto a flight to Los Angeles the next day which meant another night in London (the airline provided a hotel voucher) and paying for a flight from L.A. to Seattle.

Frustrated by all the delays and extra expenses, Friedman hopes British Airways will reimburse him. And despite all the cancellations and changes, there was an unexpectedly happy ending; none of their luggage was lost.

For Heathrow, there's hope for the future: The airport will open its vast new Terminal 5 in March 2008 where British Airways will be based. It will be able to handle about 30 million passengers a year hopefully cutting the chaos and congestion at Heathrow's current four terminals.

Kristin Jackson: kjackson@seattletimes.com or 206-464-2271

While Heathrow has myriad problems, flight cancellations and lost baggage can occur at any airport. Here are some tips on how to safeguard yourself and your luggage.

Cancellations: If your flight is canceled and the lines at the airport counters for rebooking are long, phone the airline (be sure to carry the number with you) or go online to get another flight. If you bought your ticket through a travel agent, he or she can help; be sure to have the travel agency phone numbers, including an after-hours contact. For overseas travel, having a cellphone that works internationally can be a godsend.

Lost luggage: Label your checked baggage well in case it goes missing; attach two separate labels to the exterior that include your name and phone number(s) where you can be easily reached. Also put your contact information on a big sheet of paper inside the suitcase in case exterior tags get ripped off during baggage handling.

Pack defensively: Carry valuables, medications and documents in your carry-on bag in case your checked suitcase goes missing. The best defense against lost luggage is to travel with only a carry-on bag; just be sure to check the airline regulations on carry-on luggage. Also pack some extra clothes in your carry-on in case your checked bag goes missing.

Money, money: Travel with extra cash and a credit card with a healthy limit in case of unexpected expenses because of flight delays/cancellations.

Be polite: Do not scream at airline staff when trying to rebook or find a lost bag; it's not their fault. Politeness will get you further.

Kristin Jackson / Seattle Times

Passengers on flights from the U.S. to Britain who are ending their journey there, can travel with one carry-on bag plus a laptop or briefcase. But if you're transferring to another flight, for a destination within Britain or internationally, you are restricted to only one carry-on bag that's a maximum size of approximately 22 inches by 17.5 inches by 9.8 inches. No separate laptop cases or purses are allowed (a purse can be placed within the carry-on luggage).

? This one-bag security requirement, a British government rule, has tripped up many international travelers who are transferring at London's Heathrow Airport; they may be required to check an additional bag for a connecting flight. It's also greatly increased the volume of checked luggage and baggage-handling problems at Heathrow.

? Take note: The one carry-on bag rule also applies to passengers departing on all flights from Britain, including those to the U.S.

Get the details on carry-on regulations at the British Airways Web site, www.britishairways.com/travel/bagcabin and the Heathrow Airport site, www.heathrowairport.com/

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