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Snow deepens Europe’s travel misery
London, Dec 21 (Agencies):
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Published on 22 Dec. 2010 12:27 AM IST
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Overnight snowfall has compounded transport misery for travellers in Germany, as Europe continues to struggle with freezing conditions. Germany’s main air hub, Frankfurt, was forced to cancel many flights after being hit by unexpected snowfall. In the UK, Heathrow Airport said it would continue to run only 30% of flights until 0600 GMT on Wednesday. At London St Pancras rail station the queue for Eurostar trains to France and Belgium was already 1km by 0800 GMT.
Eurostar urged passengers to rebook or get a refund for their tickets, after services were curtailed by speed restrictions put on the lines. A spokesman for Frankfurt airport said 139 arrivals and 136 departures had been cancelled on Tuesday morning.
The airport had fully reopened by 0900 GMT, but delays were expected for most of the day. Many people spent the night on camp-beds at Frankfurt, where authorities brought in four brightly coloured clowns late on Monday to try and lift the mood in the terminals. Airlines in Germany have been encouraging their passengers to take the train, while train operators - whose services are already overcrowded - urged passengers to stay at home, Reuters reports.
But some of the most dramatic scenes took place in the British capital on Monday.
More than 48 hours after the last heavy snowfall in London, angry passengers with tickets turned up at Heathrow airport only to be turned away from the already overcrowded hub. All short-haul flights had been cancelled and only one runway was in operation for the few flights that managed to take leave. The airport operator said that no more than one third of scheduled flights would be allowed to leave or land at the airport until at least 0600GMT on Wednesday. Officials warned that despite relaxation of night-flight operations in an effort to loosen the backlog it might take until after Christmas to do so, and perhaps longer if more snow falls.
The chaos at Heathrow had a knock-on effect in other international hubs where stranded passengers began to accept the possibility of not being with their loved ones over the Christmas period.
“My daughter is coming home and I don’t see her very often and she’s coming home to an empty house and it’s just devastating,” said 64-year-old Vivian Crosby, of Cambridge, England, stranded at New Jersey’s Newark airport.
Others expressed disbelief that such a short burst of snow could have such a great impact. Scott Kirker, from Philadelphia, had hoped to travel to Singapore via London to see his parents for Christmas but his flight was cancelled.
“We keep being told that London never has snow, it’s never a problem! It’s a major inconvenience for a lot of people,” he said from Newark.
Travellers’ frustration was summed up by London Mayor Boris Johnson: “It can’t be beyond the wit of man surely to find the shovels, the diggers, the snowploughs or whatever it takes to clear the snow out from under the planes, to get the planes moving and to have more than one runway going,” he said late on Monday.
Airport operators explained that the sheer volume of snow - five inches in just one hour on Saturday - led to extensive ice buildup around aircraft on the ground and that safety concerns remained their priority.
The treacherous conditions are costing British Airways some £65m (£100m; 75m euros) a day, analysts say, and the weather is severely impacting UK business in general: the number of customers in UK shops is down 25% at what is normally one of the most intense shopping periods of the year.

 
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