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Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Snow deepens Europe's Christmas travel misery

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Hundreds slept in airports as they waited for their cancelled flights to be rescheduled

Overnight snowfall has compounded transport misery for travellers in Europe, as it continues to struggle with freezing conditions.

Germany's main air hub, Frankfurt, was forced to cancel almost 300 flights after being hit by unexpected snowfall.

In the UK, Heathrow Airport said it would continue to run only 30% of flights until 0600 GMT on Wednesday.

At London St Pancras rail station the queue for Eurostar trains to France and Belgium was already 1km by 0800 GMT.

Eurostar urged passengers to rebook or get a refund for their tickets, after services were curtailed by speed restrictions put on the lines.

A spokesman for Frankfurt airport said 139 arrivals and 136 departures had been cancelled on Tuesday morning.

The airport has fully reopened, but delays were expected for most of the day.

Key European transport hubs affected

Map showing key European transport hubs


Heathrow worst-hit airport - two-thirds of flights cancelled until Wednesday


More than 300 flights cancelled at Frankfurt on Tuesday after overnight snow; other airports suffering disruption


Further disruption at Paris's two main airports, Charles de Gaulle and Orly, after weekend cancellations


Some cancellations at Schiphol as a knock-on from other European problems


Some flights at Brussels hit

Many people spent the night on camp-beds at the airport, where authorities brought in four brightly coloured clowns late on Monday to try and lift the mood in the terminals.

Airlines in Germany have been encouraging their passengers to take the train, while train operators - whose services are already overcrowded - urged passengers to stay at home, Reuters reports.

One frustrated passenger, 20-year-old Kristian Schuhmacher, said he had given up trying to fly to the UK.

"I have been trying to get back from Germany to the UK [to see] my parents since Friday. I have had five flights cancelled from both Frankfurt and Dusseldorf airports," he told the BBC.

He said he was going to drive to the UK instead.

Some of the most dramatic scenes took place in the British capital on Monday.

More than 48 hours after the last heavy snowfall in London, angry passengers with tickets turned up at Heathrow Airport only to be turned away from the already overcrowded hub.

Heathrow has published a list of flights that are expected to run on Tuesday.

Business suffers

The chaos at Heathrow has had a knock-on effect in other international hubs, where stranded passengers began to accept the possibility of not being with their loved ones over the Christmas period.

Airline travellers wait in front of a flight schedule board at Frankfurts airport, 21/12 Travellers at Frankfurt suffered a rash of cancellations early on Tuesday

"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, England, stranded at New Jersey's Newark airport.

London Mayor Boris Johnson also expressed his frustration with the situation.

"It can't be beyond the wit of man surely to find the shovels, the diggers, the snow-ploughs or whatever it takes to clear the snow out from under the planes, to get the planes moving," he said late on Monday.

Airport operators explained that the sheer volume of snow - 12.7cm (five inches) in just one hour on Saturday - led to extensive ice build-up around aircraft on the ground and that safety concerns remained their priority.

The treacherous conditions are costing British Airways some £65m (£100m; 75m euros) a day, analysts say.

The weather is also having a severe impact on UK business in general: the number of customers in UK shops is down 25% at what is normally one of the most intense shopping periods of the year.

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