Travel travails continue for snow-hit Europe

December 21st, 2010 - 4:15 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Dec 21 (IANS) Travel woes continued Tuesday for tens of thousands of passengers across Europe as a thick blanket of snow and ice across the continent made travelling virtually impossible.Britain, France and Germany are among the worst-hit countries, with forecasters warning that freezing weather may continue for the next few days, BBC reported.

Hundreds of passengers desperate to return home for Christmas camped overnight at the world’s busiest transport hub - London’s Heathrow Airport.

Over 1,000 flights were cancelled at German airports in Frankfurt, Munich and Berlin.

In Paris, the Charles de Gaulle Airport had three of its four runways open, though most of the short-haul flights were cancelled to enable longer-haul passengers to fly.

At the French capital’s smaller Orly airport, although both runways were in operation, many flights had delays of over three hours, French newspaper Le Monde reported.

In Germany, airlines encouraged passengers to take trains while train operators - whose services are already overcrowded - urged passengers to stay at home.

At Frankfurt airport - where many spent the night on camp beds inside departure lounges - authorities brought in four brightly-coloured clowns to try and lift the mood of the people.

Dramatic scenes took place also in the British capital where, more than 48 hours after the last heavy snowfall, angry passengers with tickets turned up at Heathrow airport only to be turned away from the already overcrowded hub.

All short-haul flights were cancelled and only one runway was in operation.

The airport operator said no more than one third of scheduled flights would be allowed to leave or land at the airport until at least 0600 GMT Wednesday.

There was chaos at other international hubs also where stranded passengers began to accept the possibility of not being with their loved ones over the Christmas period.

“My daughter is coming home and I don’t see her very often and she’s coming home to an empty house and it’s just devastating,” said 64-year-old Vivian Crosby, of Cambridge, Britain, stranded at New Jersey’s Newark airport.

Others expressed disbelief that such a short burst of snow could have such a great impact.

Scott Kirker, from Philadelphia, US, was hoping to travel to Singapore via London to see his parents for Christmas but his flight was cancelled.

“We keep being told that London never has snow, it’s never a problem! It’s a major inconvenience for a lot of people,” he said.

London Mayor Boris Johnson summed up travellers’ frustration by saying: “It can’t be beyond the wit of man surely to find the shovels, the diggers, the snowploughs or whatever it takes to clear the snow out from under the planes, to get the planes moving and to have more than one runway going.”

Airport operators explained that the sheer volume of snow - five inches in just an hour Saturday - led to extensive ice buildup around aircraft on the ground and that safety concerns remained their priority.

The treacherous conditions are costing British Airways some 65 million pounds ($100 million) a day, according to analysts.

The weather is severely impacting business in Britain in general. The number of customers in shops is down 25 percent at what is normally one of the most intense shopping periods of the year.

There were severe delays on the Eurostar rail service between Britain and France and Belgium. Thalys trains between France and Belgium were also affected.

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