Big freeze: Christmas travel plans in chaos

December 18th, 2010 - 6:36 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Dec 18 (IANS) Christmas travel plans for more than a million people in Britain were thrown into chaos as snow and freezing temperatures wreaked havoc across the country forcing airlines to cancel flights, a media report said Saturday. Arctic conditions forced the cancellation of hundreds of flights from terminals up and down the country on what is traditionally the busiest weekend of the year for the travelling public, the Daily Telegraph reported.

Runway closures at Heathrow and Gatwick airports in London led to delays of several hours for those who did manage to fly, but with more heavy snow forecast for Sunday, travellers have been warned that many more flights could be axed.

A total of 630,000 people were due to fly in and out of Heathrow this weekend, with another 240,000 due to pass through Gatwick and tens of thousands more at regional airports, the report said.

Sub-zero temperatures could last until the New Year, forecasters warned, casting doubt on the plans of four million Britons who had been planning to leave the country for holidays abroad.

The big freeze also brought roads and railway lines to a standstill in many parts of the country ahead of a weekend when 18 million motorists normally take to the roads.

The travel misery began Friday, when staff at Heathrow were said to have shut one runway in order to concentrate on keeping the remaining runway clear of ice.

The problems were worsened as airlines struggled to de-ice planes in time for them to take off.

The weather conditions forced the cancellation of 150 outbound and 106 inbound flights at Heathrow, while other aircraft had to queue for hours both to take off and to disembark their passengers.

However, BAA, a leading airport operator in Britain, insisted: “Heathrow is open and our airside teams have worked hard to keep both runways clear all day.”

A British Airways spokesman said problems had been worsened by the closure of other airports across Europe.

Airport operators were optimistic they would be able to keep runways open over the weekend, but airlines advised all passengers to check their flights before leaving home.

Meanwhile motorists were advised not to take to the roads unless absolutely necessary as temperatures plunged as low as -10 degrees Celsius overnight.

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