Travel chaos for passengers in Europe

2010-12-19 14:47
Paris - Heavy snow on Sunday shut down European airport runways, forced fast trains to slow down and left cars skidding through icy, slushy streets on a weekend where many people were trying to head home for the holidays.

London's Heathrow Airport stopped accepting arrivals. Frankfurt airport cancelled around 40% of flights.

Paris' Charles de Gaulle cut air traffic by a quarter as heavy snow blanketed the French capital - a rarity that has occurred several times in recent days during an unusually cold winter. Many passengers slept overnight in makeshift dormitories there, at Amsterdam's airport and at Heathrow, Europe's busiest hub for air passengers.

"The bars were open and some people were drinking and got quite nasty," passenger Sue Kerslake, who was stuck at Heathrow, told the BBC.

Heathrow said no planes would land on its runways on Sunday and that only a small number of flights would likely depart.

There was chaos in the tunnels leading from the underground station to Heathrow terminals, with hundreds of travellers told by airport staff to go back and call their airlines for updates.

Singer Lily Allen was among those caught in Heathrow disruptions, forced to disembark from her plane after a fully boarded flight was cancelled. Rail services and road travellers continued to face disruption as a result of the snow - on the main M25 orbital route around London an overturned tanker was causing long delays for motorists.

Icy conditions in Britain caused three deaths on Saturday, police said. A teenage girl was killed in a sledding accident, while a mother and her 10-year-old son died in a traffic crash.

In northern France, TGV fast trains were running slower than usual, tacking about 20 minutes on to each journey. Eurostar trains to Britain and Thalys trains to Belgium and the Netherlands were also affected.

In Italy, Florence's airport remained closed on Sunday morning due to the snow and ice storms that blanketed Tuscany.

At Frankfurt airport, Germany's biggest, more than 500 flights were cancelled on Sunday out of a planned total of 1 330 departures and arrivals.

While the runways at Frankfurt itself were clear, flights were disrupted by problems elsewhere in Europe, with some passengers left waiting for their flights since Friday. Germany's Lufthansa cancelled several domestic and regional services to and from its main hub, though long-haul flights were little affected.

In Amsterdam, Schiphol spokesperson Mirjam Snoerwang said the airport's snow plow teams had cleared three runways, and planes were arriving and leaving. However, because of problems at other European airports some 30 flights had been cancelled by late morning.

In Scandinavia, where temperatures in some places dipped to below -20 degrees, meteorologists warned snow was piling up on the icy roads following heavy snowfall and strong winds.

While airports were operating normally, several long-distance trains were delayed, and many commuter train departures around the city of Malmo in southern Sweden were cancelled.

Horse racing meetings and dozens of soccer games in England and Scotland were called off as a result of the conditions, including a high-profile match scheduled for Sunday in London between Chelsea and Manchester United.

Bad weather also forced the Dutch football association to postpone the league classic between archrivals Ajax and Feyenoord.

David Stringer in London, Geir Moulson in Berlin, Malin Rising in Stockholm and Mike Corder in the Hague, Netherlands, contributed to this report.

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