Heathrow reopens after snowfall

Arrivals and departures to be limited and flight cancellations still expected at busiest passenger air hub in the world.

    Operators at London's Heathrow airport say that the chaos is set to stretch into Christmas week [AFP]

    Heathrow airport has reopened after blizzards and freezing temperatures across Europe shut runways, train tracks and highways over the weekend, leaving thousands of Christmas travellers stranded.

    But the airport, one of the busiest international passenger air hubs in the world, is operating a limited schedule of arrivals and departures and further cancellations and delays are expected over the coming days, Laurence Lee, Al Jazeera's correspondent at Heathrow, said on Monday.

    "The vast majority of flights from here are still cancelled," he said.

    "And so far, as I can tell, they're not actually accepting any flights at all. We've seen a couple of British Airways flights take off ... but it's very, very thin at the moment."

    But he said Gatwick, Britain's second-busiest airport, was starting to "return to normal", leading to questions by the government and the mayor of London about the nature of the problem at Heathrow.

    "The parent company that runs Heathrow has come under a lot of criticism in the past for not being prepared to put in the sort of investment and infrastructure that would allow the airport to be able to put up with conditions like this," our correspondent said.

    "They don't want to pay for it because they say this is a once-in-a-life time event."

    Roads impassable

    The Reuters news agency reported on Monday that there was little respite for people trying to get away for the festive period at Heathrow and other airports across the country. Operators admitted that the chaos was set to stretch into Christmas week.

    Britain's roads and railways were also hit by the harsh winter weather, with some roads made impassable after drivers abandoned their vehicles in heavy snow and passengers being ejected onto freezing platforms from broken-down trains.

    Several European countries saw air, road and rail travel disrupted, with Ireland experiencing its worst snow in decades, though airports in Belfast and Dublin remained open.

    In Italy, the Autostrada of the Sun - the country's main north-south highway - was jammed with hundreds of vehicles, whose chilly occupants slept in their cars, vans or lorries.

    Though snow had mainly cleared or melted early on Saturday, the highway was still closed in one direction, with traffic backed up for 40km.

    The snowfall also forced high-speed trains to bypass Florence's central Santa Maria Novella station, stopping in suburban stations instead.

    Paris was sprinkled with a light coat of snow overnight, as many people prepared to set off on their Christmas holiday.

    Train delays

    More snow on Saturday led civil aviation authorities to cancel 15 per cent of flights at Charles de Gaulle airport between 4pm (1500 GMT) and 11pm (2200 GMT).

    Many flights were also cancelled in northeastern France, where snow already covered the ground, and services were also cancelled at the airports in the cities of Nantes and Rennes.

    A large number of domestic and European flights were cancelled at Germany's Frankfurt airport as it dealt with the disruption.

    Germany's railway operator Deutsche Bahn said it was pressing into service all the trains it could - though some journeys were subject to delays.

    "Everything that can roll is rolling," Holger Auferkamp, the spokesman, told the German news agency DAPD.

    The icy weather also swept over large parts of Scandinavia, causing problems particularly in Denmark, where dozens of flights were cancelled at the airport in Copenhagen.

    According to Danish news agency Ritzau, train traffic between Denmark and southern Sweden was also disrupted because of track problems, partly due to the snow, forcing passengers to instead take buses between the two countries.

    In Sweden, where media reports suggest the country is experiencing the coldest winter weather this early on in the season since the mid-1800s, several road accidents were reported, with more than 20 in the Stockholm area alone.

    Retailers said the poor weather would affect their sales on what is traditionally the busiest shopping weekend before Christmas.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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