An estimated 20,000 airline passengers are learning their flights to and from UK airports have been cancelled because of freezing fog.

On Monday night Manchester airport, Britain’s third-biggest, saw dozens of cancellations, particularly on Flybe. Services to Exeter, Southampton, Belfast, Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh were among those grounded.

“Blackfish Girl” tweeted: “After 7 hours at the airport am now flying from a different airport tomorrow afternoon. Staff at counter were lovely but the the whole organisation by @flybe was just atrocious.”

Some Ryanair and easyJet flights were heavily delayed or cancelled. Loganair’s link from Manchester to Inverness was axed, with some passengers travelling by bus instead. Their estimated arrival time was 4.30am, more than seven hours late.

The Met Office said: “During the night the fog may start to lift into low cloud but this may be a slow process with some patches perhaps lingering throughout the night.”

For the morning in central and southern England, the forecast says: “With light winds and clear skies, fog is expected to form quite widely on Monday evening with visibility falling below 100 m in places.

“Given the time of year only a slow improvement to conditions is expected on Tuesday morning though cloud arriving from the west may help lift the fog here. Some patches of fog may persist in southern and eastern parts of England throughout the morning.”

Heathrow has already seen more than 100 cancellations, with departures on Aer Lingus to Dublin and Shannon, Flybe to Edinburgh, Lufthansa to Frankfurt and Munich, SAS to Copenhagen and Stavanger, Eurowings to Stuttgart and KLM to Amsterdam all grounded. 

The largest number of cancellations, around 100, is on British Airways. The vast majority of grounded domestic and European flights are to or from Heathrow, though Gatwick and London City airports are also affected.

The airline said: “In order to keep our customers safe in these challenging conditions, we have agreed to slightly reduce our short-haul schedules.”

“We recommend that all customers check their flight is operating before travelling to the airport. We are very sorry for the disruption to our customers’ journeys at this important time of year.”

Passengers on BA due to fly to or from European destinations on Tuesday are able to rebook up to and including Friday 22 December, even if their flight is shown as operating normally.