Winter weather strands Christmas travellers at Heathrow

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Christmas travellers stranded at London Heathrow faced another night camped at the airport as severe disruption caused by freezing weather looked set to stretch into Monday.

Amid growing anger among passengers at the virtual shutdown of the British air hub, the busiest international passenger airport in the world, Heathrow said the delays and cancellations would spill into next week.

Roads and railways were also thrown into chaos by the freezing temperatures and heavy snowfalls, and forecasters predicted further problems Monday with up to 20 centimetres (eight inches) of snow falling in some places.

At Heathrow, hundreds of Christmas travellers had already been forced to spend the night at the airport on Saturday as the harsh weather swept in and many were now facing a second night.

Trevor Taylor, who had been waiting with his wife and two young sons for a flight for Singapore for two days, described conditions at Terminal 5 as "like a third world country".

"Frustration is building up. I've been sleeping on a knobbly marble floor and every space you can see is taken," the 37-year-old said.

Although passengers were advised to leave the airport if their flight had been cancelled, treacherous conditions on the roads and fully booked hotels meant some had no option but to stick it out at the airport, he said.

Some passengers said they were running out of money, while others reported lengthy queues for toilets and plug sockets for mobile phones.

Heathrow was not accepting arrivals at all on Sunday and there were only a small number of departures, and the airport warned that disruption was set to continue.

"There will be further cancellations and delays [Monday] as we continue to clear snow and ice," said a statement from the airport.

There would also be disruption "in the days that follow as airlines move diverted aircraft and crew back to their normal positions," it added.

Hundreds of passengers also slept at London's Gatwick airport on Saturday, although the situation there was improving on Sunday.

Other major airports, including London Stansted, London Luton, Birmingham, Glasgow and Bristol also faced delays and cancellations due to the snow.

Other parts of Britain's transport network also faced severe difficulties because of the weather, with rail passengers ejected from broken-down trains at freezing platforms and treacherous conditions on the roads.

Breakdown service the AA said it expected to attend 14,000 call-outs by the end of the day, double the average for a Sunday, and warned of treacherous conditions Monday.

© 2010 AFP

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