MASS flight cancellations heaped fresh misery on European travellers yesterday, as the freezing weather, which caused many deaths, brought chaos to Christmas holiday plans.
Passengers stranded by snow-blocked roads, delayed trains and a three-day suspension of the Eurostar rail service found no relief at airports as icy runways were closed and heavy snow grounded hundreds of flights.
At least 90 people have died in winter storms across Europe, including 10 in Poland, the majority of them homeless men. Temperatures there have plunged to -20C.
While Eurostar resumed a limited service yesterday, EasyJet cancelled about 180 flights due both to the “significant snowfall” and airport closures across Europe, while Ryanair grounded about 65 flights.
British Airways also cancelled a “small number” of short-haul flights, blaming the disruption caused by Monday’s heavy snowfall which had shut London Gatwick, Britain’s second busiest airport, for several hours.
Germany’s Frankfurt airport, Europe’s third busiest, was closed for about four hours overnight after the runways iced over.
Around 5,000 passengers were taken to nearby hotels while another 3,000 had to spend the night in airport terminals or on planes until their flights were cleared for take-off. London Luton airport was also closed overnight, and although it re-opened, many flights were cancelled or subject to lengthy delays.
In Italy, Milan’s Malpensa airport was closed until at least yesterday afternoon after heavy snowfall while Linate airport, which also serves the northern industrial city, was barely operating.
Hundreds of passengers spent the night at Linate after the national carrier Alitalia, which accounts for some 75% of the airport’s capacity, cancelled all flights in and out.
EasyJet also warned of “severe disruption with numerous cancellations” at London Gatwick, Rome Fiumicino, Madrid and Paris Charles de Gaulle airports. It said it “sincerely apologises” for the “exceptional” events.
British Airways chartered a Boeing 747 on Monday to fly about 350 stranded passengers between London Heathrow and Charles de Gaulle, and said it would repeat the service again later last night, a spokesman said.
Ryanair meanwhile warned that its flights to and from Milan, Dusseldorf-Weeze, Luton and London Stansted were likely to be disrupted.
But while flights hit problems, passengers were finally able to travel through the Channel Tunnel on Eurostar after the operator solved the problems which caused trains to break down on Friday, stranding 2,000 people.
By midday yesterday, five trains had left London on time and four had arrived as the crowd of waiting passengers at St Pancras was quickly reduced. Eurostar said fewer passengers than originally expected had turned up yesterday, after many had found alternative routes.
More freezing fog was expected at Stansted and forecasters from Britain’s Met Office also issued severe weather warnings across the country, warning of icy roads and thick snow in eastern Scotland.
The AA in Britain said it was their busiest night for 25 years, with about 700 calls received every hour thousands of drivers were stuck in their cars.
West of London, about 100 people, including 20 children, spent the night in the John Lewis department store after being snowed in.
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