Europe airport chaos slammed as snow misery grows

21st December 2010, Comments 0 comments

The EU lashed out at airports Tuesday for the "unacceptable" disruption caused by freezing weather across Europe as fresh snowfall added to the woes of thousands of stranded Christmas travellers.

Britain said it could use troops to end the disruption at London Heathrow, where passengers have been sleeping in terminals throughout four days of chaos, while Frankfurt and Dublin airports closed for several hours.

The cold snap chaos also hit Europe's rail network with long queues snaking outside the London terminal for the Eurostar train link between Britain, France and Belgium.

In Brussels, the European Commission warned snowbound airports they could face regulation unless they "get serious" and provide airlines with enough support during severe weather in future.

"I am extremely concerned about the level of disruption to travel across Europe caused by severe snow. It is unacceptable and should not happen again," European transport commissioner Siim Kallas said.

Eurocontrol, the continent's air traffic supervisory body, said about 3,000 flights had been cancelled across Europe on Tuesday, with similar numbers of cancellations for each of the past four days.

At Heathrow, Europe's busiest airport, around two-thirds of flights were cancelled.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said he had offered to use the military to help Spanish-owned British airports operator BAA.

"The people stuck there are having an incredibly difficult time, especially just a few days from Christmas, and everything must be done to either get them on holiday or get them home safely," Cameron told a press conference.

BAA has faced heavy criticism for the continuing closure of one runway at Heathrow despite the last major snowfall having been on Saturday.

BAA chief executive Colin Matthews said passengers should only come to the airport if their flight was confirmed, but added: "If it is, come to the airport and we will do our absolute best to give you a great experience."

Passengers queuing in the cold outside the terminal buildings at Heathrow were unimpressed by his comments.

"I think this hurts the reputation of the whole country. The airport is the first experience you have and this is not a good experience," Gustaf Malmstrom, 23, told AFP as he tried for a fifth day to get a flight to Stockholm.

Most of Heathrow's five terminals were only letting in people who were flying on Tuesday morning, mainly on flights to Asia, while others had to queue outside. Workers handed out silver foil blankets and set up two heated tents.

Gatwick, London's second airport, reopened its runway at 0600 GMT although further delays and cancellations were inevitable, a spokesman said.

Eurostar said it was running a restricted service and asked all customers booked to travel before Christmas to refund or exchange their tickets free of charge if their journey was not essential.

The queue of passengers stretched for more than a kilometre around the imposing St Pancras station, although it seemed to be moving faster than on previous days.

"This is the longest queue I have been in in my life," said George Gow, 20, an American student, trying to get to Paris.

In Germany, fresh snowfall caused gridlock at the country's main airport Frankfurt with no flights taking off or landing for around three and a half hours in the morning.

By the time it reopened at around 0800 GMT, 300 of the 1,300 daily flights at Europe's third-largest airport were cancelled, while others were diverted to Munich.

More than 1,000 travellers spent the night at Frankfurt airport, which laid out camp beds and distributed drinks, sandwiches and soft buttered pretzels.

Meanwhile a German man smashed his neighbour over the head with a shovel, killing him on the spot, after a heated argument over who was responsible for removing snow from the joint entrance to their properties.

The victim "was so badly injured that he died on the spot," Lutz Flassnoecker, a police spokesman, following the attack in the tiny town of Schnellenbach, western Germany.

In France, authorities allowed the two main airports in Paris, Charles de Gaulle and Orly, to remain open around the clock to clear the backlog of delayed flights.

One hundred civil security personnel had been sent on Monday evening with 300 beds and 2,500 blankets for those still stranded at Charles de Gaulle.

Dublin airport said it would close from around 1200 GMT to 1700 GMT due to fresh snowfalls.

© 2010 AFP

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