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U.K., France, Germany and the Netherlands are among the worst

Weather Chaos in Europe continues

Dec 20, 2010

"I'm really disappointed to have disrupted so many thousands of people's Christmas plans," he said on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
"I couldn't be more sorry, that's the case."

Colin Matthews, chief executive of BAA, was forced into an embarrassing apology as he sought to sooth passengers' fury.'

He added that it "may well be" that BAA had to buy more equipment to deal with conditions like those seen in recent days.

Philip Hammond, the U.K.Transport Secretary, promised an inquiry into how stranded passengers were treated at the airport over the weekend, as he acknowledged public "outrage" over the disruption.

Snow, ice and freezing cold weather was hitting road, rail and air networks across northern Europe for a third consecutive day Monday, leaving hundreds of thousands of travelers stranded, retailers facing lower sales and airlines and airports facing big bills for the disruption.

The U.K., France, Germany and the Netherlands are among the worst hit by the freezing weather, which is set to continue until Christmas, according to forecasters.

Paris was one of the worst hit cities. Airport operator Aeroports de Paris (ADP.FR) said no flights landed in Paris Monday morning due to falling snow. Conditions improved in the afternoon although delays were likely to persist.

The city's public transport operator RATP said about 40 out of 50 bus lines were suspended.

Train operator SNCF said national lines were functioning, but there were delays because of speed restrictions due to the snow. Some local lines, particularly in Normandy, were shut down, it said.

Eurocontrol, the umbrella organization for air-traffic control across 38 countries, said Paris Orly, Roissy Charles de Gaulle and Le Bourget had no flights Monday morning, while Frankfurt and Berlin Tegel in Germany suffered heavy delays.

Fraport AG (FRA.XE), the operator of Frankfurt airport, said about 300 flights were expected to be canceled out of the 1,300 flights scheduled Monday. About 900 of 2,700 scheduled flights were canceled Saturday and Sunday. Fraport had set up some 1,000 camp beds at the airport over the weekend so passengers could spend the night, and staff distributed snacks and drinks and employed clowns and entertainers to try and keep children occupied.

German railway operator Deutsche Bahn AG said its trains were running, though some had major delays due to the bad weather and speed limits. A spokesman said trains were extremely crowded, and passengers could get refunds for their tickets if they decided not to travel.

Many travellers, unable to take flights, have tried to continue their journeys by rail, and main routes between Hamburg and Munich, Berlin and the Ruhr area and between Cologne and Munich were particularly busy, the spokesman said.

London's Heathrow, the world's busiest international airport, was open Monday but airport operator BAA Ltd. said it would be operating a reduced schedule until 0600 GMT Wednesday and that further delays and cancellations were inevitable.

British Airways PLC (BAY.LN), which canceled hundreds of flights over the weekend, said only one of Heathrow's two runways was operational as BAA continued to clear snow and ice.

"Based on current icy conditions and forecast of further bad weather, we expect this process to take some time. The airport is, therefore, likely to be operating at significantly reduced capacity for several days," BA said.

The airline said it planned to operate as many long-haul flights as possible, but there would be some cancellations. It operated a small number of short-haul flights Monday morning, but canceled the remainder after midday.

"Customers who are travelling from Heathrow, whose travel is not essential, are encouraged to cancel their flight, in return for a full refund, or to consider changing their flight to another date over the next 12 months," BA said.

All airlines were advising passengers to check their flights were still scheduled before setting off for the airport.

On its website, Eurocontrol described the situation at Heathrow as chaotic and air-traffic control authorities had been requested to work out a solution, including regulating the number of flights into the airport to 10 an hour.

Secretary of State for Transport Philip Hammond said the immediate focus was on maximizing the number of flights and that restrictions on night flights would be relaxed. However, he added: "Heathrow is likely to be operating at reduced capacity until Christmas."

As bad weather disrupted travel for the second consecutive winter, Hammond said it was time to consider whether the U.K. was seeing a "step change" in weather that required adjustment. The government would be looking at whether it made sense to spend more on winter preparedness, he said.

Heathrow was at a standstill for much of the weekend as it struggled to clear snow and ice. Thousands of flights were canceled and passengers were left huddled under blankets in terminals. With more snow falling, the airport operator Monday closed Terminal One and Terminal Three buildings for new passengers until due to congestion.

London Stansted, also owned by BAA, said it was fully operational and was taking a couple of flights that would normally have landed at Heathrow. Some airlines operating from Stansted, including Ryanair Holdings PLC (RYA.DB), had laid on extra flights to help stranded passengers, a spokeswoman for the airport said.

Ryanair said it had laid on 20 extra flights Monday between Stansted and destinations including Dublin, Bremen in Germany and Salzburg in Austria.

The disruption was hitting the workings of government. A meeting between the U.K. government and banks to discuss bonuses and lending was postponed Monday because Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne was having trouble catching a flight back to London from New York due to bad weather, a government spokesman said.

Rail services and the road network also were suffering severe disruption. The U.K.'s Met Office had severe weather warnings in place over much of the country for more snow or icy roads.

Eurostar, which operates passenger trains between London and European cities including Paris and Brussels through the Channel Tunnel, said it was suffering delays and speed restrictions and it has a number of trains and crew out of position. It said it would operate a contingency timetable with some cancellations for a number of days and it wasn't selling any more tickets for trains up to Christmas.

In the Netherlands, Amsterdam's Schiphol airport was fully operational Monday, after canceling about 100 flights on Saturday and about 70 on Sunday due to the harsh weather conditions. However, a spokesperson said some flights were still likely to be canceled due to continuing problems in other countries, while the weather conditions in Amsterdam were causing delays to other flights.

Air France-KLM (AF.FR) said it expected only a "limited" number of cancellations on European flights leaving Schiphol, while almost all long-haul flights will take off.

During the weekend, up to 1,000 passengers got stranded at Schiphol. Passengers who couldn't get a hotel from their airline were given camp beds by Schiphol, but the airport said only "dozens" had been used.

t must be a thankless task, operating the Twitter account for a major airport during a snowstorm - as the person behind @heathrowairport is discovering.
As thousands of increasingly irate passengers struggle to find information on flights and cancellations, they are often turning to the Heathrow Airport Twitter feed.

Unfortunately, it seems that the person behind the account has little more to go on than the frustrated passengers themselves, and is reduced to simply telling people to check with their airlines or visit
"Best advice is to check with your airline before you fly or view our online departures at", they tell @jsn0. "Live flight information at Heathrow is available at or via your airline", @rizzelrose is informed. "You can check our live flight schedules at or contact your airline at", hears Australia-bound @davery1979.
This less-than-innovative approach to using social media is not meeting with universal approval. One Twitterer points out that "the British Airways website isn't working so I can't check", while @keith1906's airline has told him to check with the airport, who are now telling him to check with the airline, in a circle that looks tough to break.

Weather Chaos in Europe continues

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