LONDON (AFP) – 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 faced severe disruption.
A woman keeps warm in a foil blanket, as she waits with other passengers for flight information, outside of Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 3. AFP
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 but the air hub’s second runway reopened late Tuesday, prompting hopes an end to the crisis was in sight.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said he had offered to use the military to help Spanish-owned British airports operator BAA, but this offer had been refused.
“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.
Despite the opening of the second runway, BAA chief executive Colin Matthews warned people not to expect the situation to return to normal immediately.
“It is good news to see aircraft taking off and landing from two runways but it’s really important that passengers understand that doesn’t mean the full schedule is going to be restored instantly,” he told Sky News television.
Anger was meanwhile mounting among passengers queuing in the cold outside the terminal buildings at Heathrow.
“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.
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, and Eurostar warned the chaos looked set to continue.
“It’s too early at the moment to say when we will get back to normal,” a spokeswoman told AFP.
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.
Many internal flights were cancelled because of the arctic conditions, prompting German train company Deutsche Bahn to announce additional services on major routes across the country to help stranded travellers.
Dublin airport grounded all flights until 0800 GMT on Wednesday after Ireland was hit by more than 15 centimetres (six inches) of snow.
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.