Millions of Britons faced travel misery today with planes grounded, rail services cancelled and roads rendered impassable on what is traditionally the busiest weekend before Christmas.
Plunging temperatures and heavy snow saw large swathes of the country grind to a standstill, as London’s Gatwick Airport closed its runway and British Airways cancelled flights at Heathrow.
Overnight blizzards and plummeting temperatures buckled a huge chunk of the nation’s road and rail networks, as the latest blast of wintery weather showed little sign of easing.
Air passengers have already faced disruption at Exeter, London City, Aberdeen and Cardiff airports, while Belfast City was closed last night, with flights expected to resume at 11am.
Southampton Airport was closed until 12pm and flights to certain destinations from Birmingham were also grounded.
Delays and cancellations were expected at Belfast International while a spokesman for Heathrow said the airport was open but would be “challenged” today.
“Heathrow is fully operational but we are expecting more snow and planning for the worst,” he said.
“BA passengers must stay at home as all BA flights are cancelled. At this time there are no significant delays at other terminals. All passengers must check with airlines before setting off as the situation will worsen.”
A Gatwick airport said efforts were now under way to clear the snow.
“We’ve had heavy snowfall solidly now for the past hour and it continues to fall,” a spokesman said.
“We’re now out there ploughing, sweeping and brushing the snow away and will continue to do that until it’s safe to resume operations.”
Officials advised all passengers to check their flight status before travel.
There was also widespread chaos on major roads and motorways.
Hundreds of motorists were left stranded on the M6 in Greater Manchester as the North West of England was hit with reported deluges of up to 25cm of snow.
Meanwhile, parts of the south were also blanketed and as much as a foot of the white stuff is expected to fall on parts of the South East and the Midlands today.
Forecasters expect the mercury will struggle to break freezing in the next 24 hours, after overnight temperatures dropped as low as minus 13C in Chesham, Buckinghamshire, with Gatwick producing a reading of minus 11C.
A fleet of 47 snow ploughs, tractors and other vehicles were deployed in a frantic effort to clear the snow from the runway at Gatwick as it continued to fall.
Some 150 staff were drafted in to carry out the operation in an attempt to clear the ground and create safe conditions for take-offs.
But as soon as a patch was cleared, it was almost instantly covered again by another coating.
Regulations require the airport to suspend flights if snow lies thicker than 3cm on the ground.
And the heavy snowfall was expected to continue for at least another hour.
Extra ground staff were working in the terminal to deal with frustrated and disappointed passengers facing long waits.
Free internet access was provided to help would-be travellers book alternative flights and attempt to rescue their holiday plans.
The airport spokesman said: “When you get a situation like this the welfare of the passengers is of the utmost priority. We’ve told them to expect delays and cancellations throughout.”
Almost 600 flights were scheduled to operate from Gatwick today, with at least 138 cancelled by mid-morning.