Heavy snow causes travel chaos across Europe
More snow disrupted European air travel for a second day on Sunday, with London's Heathrow closing its runways to inbound traffic while Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports in Paris were forced to cancel up to 40 percent of their flights.
AFP - Heavy snow disrupted the Christmas holiday getaway in Europe on Sunday, forcing the continent's biggest airports to close and thousands of stranded passengers to spend the night on terminal floors.
In London, Paris, Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Brussels, flights were cancelled and airports warned of backlogs spilling into Monday, with snow and ice frustrating travel plans across Europe on the last weekend before December 25.
Hundreds of passengers had to sleep in terminals after becoming trapped in no man's land when their flights were diverted from affected airports and they were without a visa to leave transit lounges.
London Heathrow, the world's busiest international passenger airport, remained paralysed Sunday due to ice on the tarmac, with no flights coming in and only a handful leaving. Thousands were stuck there overnight.
The west London airport planned to reopen Monday but warned there would be further delays and cancellations as it cleared snow and ice, and as diverted aircraft returned to their normal positions.
"I'm hanging in there," said psychiatrist Janos Kalman, 50, who was waiting overnight for a flight to Budapest. "I've seen people crying and panicking, and the staff trying to cope with it all."
Hundreds more spent the night at London Gatwick, Europe's eighth busiest passenger airport.
"Today is Gatwick's busiest day of the festive getaway and we are doing everything we can to get passengers on their way," a spokeswoman said.
Temperatures plunged to minus 19 degrees Celsius (minus two degrees Fahrenheit) as Britain's Met Office national weather service said snow falls this month have been the heaviest for December since 1981.
Frankfurt airport, Germany's busiest, cancelled more than 540 flights Sunday due to heavy snow, with further flurries and cancellations expected.
More than 1,000 stranded passengers had to spend the night on beds set up in the airport terminals, some for a second night.
Two of the four runways at Paris's Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle airport, continental Europe's biggest air hub, remained closed, with dozens of flights scrapped.
Several hundred passengers spent the night there, having been on diverted Heathrow-bound flights.
Some 40 percent of Roissy flights from 1500 GMT were cancelled, while 20,000 passengers were awaiting their flights.
"We've no information," said Costa Maroulis, a 46-year-old American going home from the Middle East for Christmas.
"I need to take a plane to Pittsburgh, but they've only told me it's been cancelled. I've queued up several times, at terminal 2F, then 2C and now 2E but I still don't know if I'm going to fly."
Only a few bus services in the French capital operated Sunday and none at all in the suburbs. The city's iconic Eiffel Tower was closed to visitors.
The poor conditions caused Eurostar to cancel six of its trains between Britain, France and Belgium, the company announced, as other rail services warned of delays.
In the Netherlands, several hundred people spent the night at Amsterdam-Schiphol airport, where air traffic continued to be severely disrupted on Sunday.
In Belgium, around 1,500 people were to spend a second night at Brussels airport, after up to 3,000 passengers slept there Saturday. Most of them were on 18 rerouted flights bound for Heathrow.
Because Britain is outside the Schengen zone, the passport-free travel within Europe, many passengers did not have the necessary visas to leave the transit lounge.
Sunday was Belgium's 18th day of snowfall since the start of November, beating the previous record was set in 1945.
In northern Italy the situation was improving after two days of chaos on the roads and in the airports in Tuscany.
Pisa airport, the hub of several budget airlines, reopened Sunday, having been closed since Friday.
Sporting events were also hit. The major English Premier League football clash between title rivals Chelsea and Manchester United was postponed, as was the big Ajax v Feyenoord tie in Amsterdam. European Cup rugby union matches were called off.
In the Balkans, four people froze to death this weekend. Two men, aged 72 and 50, were found around Banja Luka in Bosnia, while an elderly couple were found dead by their neighbours in Serbia.
In Croatia, temperatures plummeted to minus 21C (minus 5.8F) in the northern town of Cakovec.
The snowfall even reached as far south as Algeria, where two people died in a road accident and traffic ground to a halt on several major roads.