What caused the Luton Airport fire and what happens next? (2024)

  • Published

What caused the Luton Airport fire and what happens next? (1)

By Laurence Cawley & Katy Prickett

BBC News, Bedfordshire

Opened just four years ago as part of a multi-million pound modernisation programme, Luton Airport's terminal car park two has suffered a structural collapse after a huge fire ripped through it. So, what happens next at Luton, the UK's fifth largest airport?

What started the fire?

Image source, Reuters

John Shaw, 30, from Oxford, was told by call handlers he was the first person to dial 999 about the fire after he spotted the flames at Luton Airport on Tuesday at 20:45 BST.

He was returning from a family trip to Romania with his partner and nine-month-old daughter.

  • Luton Airport flights resume after car park blaze

"We were sat there not knowing what to do, whether to evacuate or not. Everybody was in a state of panic and then it starts spreading to the floor above," he said.

"As this happens, my car comes into sight in the car park. I get my daughter, partner and luggage into the car and evacuate as quickly as possible.

"We could hear explosions as well and were worried about things flying off, like bits of shrapnel."

Image source, PA Media

The fire started on level three of the airport's terminal two car park.

Fifteen fire engines and more than 100 firefighters from Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Northamptonshire and London were sent to the car park.

The fire service said the car park was not fitted with sprinklers.

It is thought the fire started with a diesel-powered vehicle "and then that fire has quickly and rapidly spread", said Andrew Hopkinson, Bedfordshire's chief fire officer.

While the exact number of cars damaged or destroyed is not yet known, Mr Hopkinson said: "There is a substantial number [of cars] that are not damaged."

There is no suggestion the blaze happened intentionally.

Footage has emerged of a burning car in the car park which is thought to have been the cause of the wider blaze.

The video was said to have been taken shortly after the fire began on the third floor of the car park, late on Tuesday evening.

The woman who filmed the car was there to pick up relatives.

"We saw there was a fire [but] the fire extinguisher from this floor was used, so we went to another floor to take another," she said.

"But at that moment when we came to the car, it exploded and we couldn't come near."

Electrical faults with the 12-volt battery system are the most common cause of car fires, according to the AA's technical expert Greg Carter.

Mr Carter said diesel is "much less flammable" than petrol, and in a car it takes "intense pressure or sustained flame" to ignite diesel.

How many passengers were disrupted or stranded?

Image source, PA Media

The car park fire led to the cancellation of more than 150 flights which were due to land or take off from the airport.

A further 27 arrivals were diverted to airports as far away as Cardiff, Liverpool and Manchester, while many other flights were delayed.

Estimates suggest more than 30,000 passengers suffered disruption to their journeys.

Hundreds of people were stranded, because their cars were either in the collapsed car par or an adjacent one.

Image source, OLGA AKMEN/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

Helen Jocelyne, from Exmouth in Devon, was returning to Luton from Bulgaria when her plane was diverted to Stansted in Essex.

A coach took her the hour-long journey to Luton, but she said she had to walk to the terminal with her luggage.

Others camped out in the airport.

Flights resumed at about 15:00 on Wednesday.

Luton Airport is the UK's fifth largest airport, handling 13 million passengers in 2022.

Are those affected insured?

Image source, TOLGA AKMEN/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

The total cost of the Luton Airport fire will not be known for some time.

It is thought there were about 1,500 vehicles in the 1,900-capacity car park at the time of the fire.

The exact cause of the fire and the number of vehicles damaged is not yet clear.

A temporary ramp was set up at the car park to enable undamaged vehicles to be removed.

Image source, TOLGA AKMEN/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

In a statement on the Luton Airport car park fire, a spokesman for the Association of British Insurers said: "Owners of vehicles caught up in this fire will naturally be very concerned.

"Comprehensive and third-party fire and theft motor insurance policies will cover fire damage.

"Drivers affected should notify any claim to their motor insurer. We will continue to work with our members and Luton Airport to understand the situation, as and when more information becomes available.

"Travellers caught up in the disruption following the fire should check the position with their air carrier or travel operator.

"Some travel polices may offer limited cover for delays or any abandonment of travel."

Can airline passengers get compensation?

Image source, Laura Palmer/BBC

"The airlines are in a completely thankless position," said travel expert Simon Calder.

"It's nothing to do with them, obviously, [yet] they have an unlimited duty of care to find people alternative seats as soon as possible, to get them hotels, meals, and when you get such disruption at such a scale it's impossible for them to do so."

If their flight is covered under UK law, the airline must let passengers choose between either getting a refund or an alternative flight, according to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

  • What are my rights if my flight is cancelled or delayed?

They can get their money back for any part of the ticket they have not used.

If they still want to travel, the airline must find an alternative flight.

Image source, TOLGA AKMEN/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock Termin

Mr Calder said what they are not entitled to is cash compensation on top of the refund or alternative flight.

Passengers stuck at the airport or abroad as a result of the flight cancellations are also entitled to assistance from their airline.

This includes a reasonable amount of food and drink, usually in the form of vouchers, free accommodation if they have to stay overnight and transport to and from the accommodation.

If the airline is unable to arrange assistance, passengers can organise it themselves.

In that case, the CAA advises them to keep receipts and not spend more than necessary.

'Sprinklers may have made a positive impact'

Image source, Reuters

Three firefighters and a member of airport staff were taken to hospital suffering from the effects of breathing in smoke.

A further firefighter was treated at the scene by the paramedics.

No serious injuries were reported.

The fire service said a full investigation into the blaze was under way. It is not known how long it will take.

Mr Hopkinson said discussions were already taking place with the airport about fire prevention measures.

He said: "We are already talking to the airport about ensuring that any future, and the existing, car parks have sprinklers fitted.

"Sprinklers may have made a positive impact on this incident."

Javeria Hussain is chair of Luton Rising, the Luton Borough Council company that owns the airport.

She said: "We're going to be working closely with the operator, and emergency support, to make sure that there is a return to business as usual for the airport as quickly as possible and that process has started this afternoon."

She added Luton Rising and the borough council would be also be "working closely with the airport operator to deal with the recovery operation".

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Related Topics

  • Aviation accidents and incidents
  • Luton
  • Luton Airport
  • Air travel

More on this story

  • Flights returning to normal after Luton Airport fire

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      2 days ago

  • Luton Airport flights resume after car park blaze

    • Published

      3 days ago

  • What are my rights if my flight is cancelled or delayed?

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      29 August

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What caused the Luton Airport fire and what happens next? (2024)


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