Britain still in grip of big freeze

Weather-weary Britons battled ice and snow today to either get away for the Christmas break or to do last-minute shopping.

Weather-weary Britons battled ice and snow today to either get away for the Christmas break or to do last-minute shopping.

As aviation regulators warned some airlines that their treatment of passengers has been unacceptable in recent days, conditions eased enough for Heathrow airport to handle 200,000 customers.

But Dublin airport had to shut for some of the day while those taking rail journeys had to contend with delays and cancellations and drivers faced tailbacks on many major routes.

Forecasters said the chance of snow falling on Christmas Day – the bookmaker’s interpretation of a white Christmas – was very small.

But they added that the weather would remain cold, with the possibility of prolonged snow on the night of December 26/27.

In Newcastle-upon-Tyne, police found the body of 21-year-old student Duncan Gibbon, from Northallerton, North Yorkshire, who had vanished in freezing conditions five days ago.

Also, North Wales police were looking into whether a 48-year-old man found in Bangor city centre had died from exposure.

Heathrow, where there were chaotic scenes earlier in the week, was able to operate about 90% of flights today. British Airways managed to run all its long-haul flights at the west London airport and the vast majority of its short-haul flights.

BA said it had put on larger aircraft on some routes and also chartered a number of planes.

But a spokeswoman for the carrier said: “There may be some people who may not get where they want by the time they want.”

As BA and other airlines coped with the Christmas getaway, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) warned some airlines about their “unacceptable treatment of passengers” during the current bad weather.

The CAA said it had written to a few, as yet unnamed, carriers – both UK-based and overseas-based – saying they had not met their EU laid-down obligations to customers.

CAA chairman Dame Deirdre Hutton said: “The EU has put in place regulations to protect people in situations such as this, which not only guarantees people will be looked after, but requires airlines to let people know what their rights are.

“This has not been happening in all cases and it is important that passengers are not being misled. The fact that some airlines are making real efforts to look after their passengers shows that it can be done and there is no excuse for providing misleading information on what passengers are entitled to.”

Rail services continued to suffer delays and cancellations with a number of train companies operating amended timetables.

The East Coast company axed 13 services between London and Leeds today and will be cancelling 12 trains between the two cities tomorrow.

Services in Scotland were again hit by the Arctic conditions, while First Great Western had to cancel some London-Cardiff services.

Traffic built up on major road routes from early afternoon. There was congestion on the M25 and also on the A34 in Wiltshire, the A35 in Dorchester in Dorset and on the A49 at Leominster, Herefordshire.

Other busy spots included the A5 near Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire, the A12 near Lowestoft in Suffolk, and the M1 through Bedfordshire.

The Bedfordshire stretch of the M1 is one of the areas where roadworks will stay in place over the festive period. Another set of works that will continue to operate are those on a northern section of the M25.

But the Highways Agency has completed a number of roadworks in time for Christmas and has suspended others from 6am tomorrow until midnight on January 3.

“There is only likely to be snow falling on Christmas Day in the far north of Scotland,” said Brendan Jones, a forecaster with MeteoGroup.

He added that there could be a few snow showers tomorrow with only the south coast likely to have temperatures above freezing.

Mr Jones went on: “It’s probably going to be sunny and cold on Christmas Day but rain and wind on Boxing Day could turn to periods of prolonged snow on the night of December 26/27.”

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