Snowed Under: Winter Weather Wreaks Havoc at European Airports

The holiday season has got off to a stressful start in Europe as extreme weather conditions caused thousands of flight cancellations, leaving hordes of frustrated passengers stranded in airports all over the continent.

Photo Gallery: Airport Sleepovers Photos
dpa

Passengers were stranded in airports all over Europe on Monday as bad weather frustrated travel plans with just days to go to Christmas. Travel between European airports was almost impossible on the weekend as the ongoing winter weather caused endless delays and hundreds of cancellations.

The situation at Frankfurt Airport showed little sign of improvement on Monday morning. Around one-fifth of the 1,325 planned takeoffs and landings on Monday would be cancelled, said a spokesperson from the Fraport airport authorities. On Sunday night, between 200 and 300 stranded passengers were forced to spend the night in the airport, where around 1,000 camp beds have been set up. For some people, it was their third night trapped in the airport.

Sleeping in Airports

Things seemed to be going more smoothly at Düsseldorf Airport, with only 70 cancellations over the last few days. An airport spokesperson on Monday morning described the status quo as "quite relaxed." Berlin's Schönefeld Airport suffered little disruption on Sunday and the city's Tegel Airport only had to cancel around 10 flights.

A spokeswoman from Lufthansa said on Sunday evening that flight disruptions were the combined result of weather conditions in Frankfurt and closures at other European airports, adding that long-haul flights were still able to operate out of Frankfurt. Lufthansa put a special flight schedule into operation on Saturday, and recommended that people use trains where possible for travel within Germany. On Sunday, however, the national rail company, Deutsche Bahn, advised against taking trains, as they were overcrowded and experiencing considerable delays.

Christmas getaways and family reunions were put on hold over the weekend as passengers bedded down in airports all over Europe. There was a tense atmosphere at London Heathrow as the airport administration warned of further delays and bottlenecks continuing into Monday. An estimated 3,000 people reportedly spent the night in Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport. Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport and Brussels Airport were similarly affected.

Trains Not a Reliable Alternative.

The Eurostar trains connecting Paris, Brussels and London continue to operate a much-reduced service, with thousands of people waiting in line to see if they would be able to travel. In Germany, Deutsche Bahn experienced problems with both regional and national services, while problems with de-icing equipment caused delays on Berlin's commuter trains on Monday morning.

Roads in Germany remained treacherous as ice and snow brought traffic to a crawl. Road grit manufacturers say they cannot rule out supply shortages despite working around the clock to meet demand. The roads of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia were particularly badly hit, with authorities placing a highway ban on trucks weighing over 7.5 tons at the weekend -- the second in a week.

Expensive Weather

The extreme weather is already taking its toll financially. The automobile club of Germany, ADAC, estimated costs of up to €4 million ($5.3 million) per day for clearing and gritting the country's roads -- a sum that still won't guarantee snow-free streets. Rail companies have to spend extra money on de-icing equipment, while airports not only have to install extra de-icing measures, but also have to pay compensation for cancelled flights and care for the hordes of passengers stranded in their terminals too.

The weather outlook for the next few days from the German Weather Service is promising for those in the south of Germany, with milder weather and a possible thaw predicted. For the north of the country, however, the cold snap will continue and up to 15 centimeters (5.9 inches) of fresh snow can be expected in eastern Germany.

jap -- with wire reports

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