AFP: Grounded European flights compound travel misery

Grounded European flights compound travel misery

(AFP) – 6 hours ago

LONDON — Mass flight cancellations heaped fresh misery on European travellers Tuesday, as the freezing weather that has caused at least 90 deaths brought chaos to Christmas holiday plans.

Passengers stranded by snow-blocked roads, delayed trains and a three-day suspension of the Eurostar rail service found no relief at airports as icy runways were closed and heavy snow grounded hundreds of flights.

At least 90 people have died in winter storms across Europe, including 10 in Poland in the last day, the majority of them homeless men. Temperatures there have plunged to minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus four degrees Fahrenheit).

While Eurostar resumed a limited service on Tuesday, EasyJet cancelled about 180 flights due both to the “significant snowfall” and airport closures across Europe, while Irish carrier Ryanair grounded about 65 flights. Related article: Snow no match for Japan’s bullet train.

British Airways also cancelled a “small number” of short-haul flights, blaming the disruption caused by Monday’s heavy snowfall which had shut London Gatwick, Britain’s second busiest airport, for several hours.

Germany’s Frankfurt airport, Europe’s third busiest, was closed for about four hours overnight Monday after the runways iced over.

Around 5,000 passengers were taken to nearby hotels while another 3,000 had to spend the night in airport terminals or on planes until their flights were cleared for take-off.

London Luton airport also closed overnight, although efforts to de-ice the runways caused continued delays.

In Italy, Milan’s Malpensa airport was closed until at least Tuesday afternoon after a dump of heavy snow while Linate airport, which also serves the northern industrial city, was barely operating.

Hundreds of passengers spent the night at Linate after the national carrier Alitalia, which accounts for some 75 percent of the airport’s capacity, cancelled all flights in and out.

EasyJet also warned of “severe disruption with numerous cancellations” at London Gatwick, Rome Fiumicino, Madrid and Paris Charles de Gaulle airports. It said it “sincerely apologises” for the “exceptional” events.

British Airways chartered a Boeing 747 on Monday to fly about 350 stranded passengers between London Heathrow and Charles de Gaulle, and said it would repeat the service again later Tuesday, a spokesman said.

Ryanair meanwhile warned that its flights to and from Milan, Dusseldorf-Weeze, Luton and London Stansted were likely to be disrupted.

More freezing fog was expected at Stansted, north of London, and forecasters from Britain’s Met Office also issued severe weather warnings across the country, warning of icy roads and thick snow in eastern Scotland.

Thousands of drivers were stuck in their cars in southern England overnight as another freeze descended, and motoring association the AA said it was their busiest night for 25 years, with about 700 calls received every hour.

In Buckinghamshire, west of London, about 100 people, including 20 children, spent the night in the John Lewis department store after being snowed in.

“There was no way that I was going to throw customers out into that,” said store managing director Deborah Strazza, adding: “Basically we made up the beds and they all snuggled down in the bed department.”

Copyright © 2009 AFP. All rights reserved. More »

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