Europe travel chaos 'eases'
Life at major transport hubs slowly returns to normal after many flights were cancelled due to bad weather conditions.
Last Modified: 22 Dec 2010 10:44 GMT

Laurence Lee reports from Dover where stranded passengers have turned to boats to reach their destinations

Airports and rail terminals in major European transport hubs say many services are running, but there are still likely to be cancellations and delays following the wintry weather that caused days of travel chaos.

London's Heathrow Airport said on Wednesday that dozens of flights would depart, while Germany's Frankfurt airport confirmed schedules were slowly returning to normal.

About 70 flights from Frankfurt were cancelled out of a planned daily total of about 1,300 compared with 550 cancellations on Tuesday.

All runways were back in use, said an airport spokesman, and almost all delays were being dealt with.

Around 3,000 flights across Europe were cancelled on Tuesday, which is roughly 15 per cent of flights on a normal day.

British Airways said it aims to operate the vast majority of its flights from Heathrow on Thursday but "it will take some days to return to normal".

Alan Fisher, Al Jazeera's correspondent at Heathrow, said the airport hoped to be running normally by the end of the week.

"But that will still be too late for tens of thousands of people this season who wanted the airport to be the first part of their journey - not a large part of their holiday," he said.

Colin Matthews, chief executive of airport operator BAA, has said he will forgo his bonus this year following heavy criticism for the extensive disruption at Heathrow.

'Near-normal schedule'

Eurostar said train services between Britain and continental Europe were operating a near-normal schedule, but asked only customers with tickets to show up at terminals after thousands crowded ticket halls earlier this week.

Weather forecasters predicted fresh snow across England and Wales, though not in London.

Siim Kallas, the European Transportation Commissioner, said the failure to keep flights operating in winter weather was "unacceptable."

Flight disruptions caused by weather have compounded the financial problems of British Airways this year

Helen Kearns, a European Commission spokeswoman, read a statement from Kallas warning that new airport regulations due to be published before the summer could include new requirements on minimal services operators would have to be able to provide during severe weather.

The statement said airports must "get serious" about planning for severe weather conditions.

"We have seen in recent years that snow in Western Europe is not such an exceptional circumstance and better preparedness, in line with what is done in Northern Europe is not at this stage an optional extra.

"It must be planned for and entail the necessary investment," Kearns said, reading from the statement.

She said the level of travel disruption across Europe was "unacceptable" and "should not happen again".

David Cameron, the British prime minister, said his government had "offered military assistance" to the company that operates London Heathrow. Heathrow said it was grateful for the offer but didn't need the help.

A spokeswoman said there were more than 200 volunteers supporting passengers in the terminals and construction contractors assisting with snow clearing around the airport.

Cameron said that given the exceptional weather, which saw 13 centimetres of snow fall in an hour on Saturday, it was inevitable that Heathrow would shut for a time.

"I am frustrated on behalf of all those affected that it has taken so long for the situation to improve," Cameron said.

The airport spokeswoman said officials needed "breathing space" to clear remaining snow, restart equipment and move planes and crews back into place.
Meanwhile, Philip Hammond, Britain's Transport Secretary, warned UK airport operator BAA (British Airports Authority) that once "this immediate crisis is over and the airport is operating normally again, we will then have to have a very hard discussion with them about what happened on Saturday."

Al Jazeera and agencies
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