White-Christmas Chaos: Frankfurt Airport Reopens After Total Shutdown

Things were looking hopeful on Monday night for stranded passengers at Frankfurt International Airport -- until fresh snowfall early Tuesday forced a complete shutdown. Planes were moving again three and a half hours later.

Photo Gallery: The Long Way Home Photos
DPA

Around two a.m. Tuesday morning the runways at Frankfurt were clear of snow, and the situation looked ready to improve. After a nerve-wracking few days, thousands of people, with travel plans thrown into turmoil, were finally hoping to be on their way.

Then another blizzard struck, and by five a.m. airport authorities had no choice but to cancel all flights. Uwe Witzel, a spokesman from Fraport AG, the Frankfurt airport authority, said: "We didn't expect this at all -- we had a different forecast from the weather service."

The three-and-a-half hour shutdown ended at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, but the outlook promises more delayed or canceled flights. An airport spokesperson told SPIEGEL ONLINE that around 300 of the day's 1300 flights would have to be cut. Although 1000 camp beds have been set up in the terminals, only a few people had to spend the night. A majority of passengers found rooms in hotels around the airport.

Around 10,000 long-haul passengers were affected by the shutdown, as passenger flights from Singapore, Dubai and Bombay, among others, had to be re-routed to Munich and Leipzig airports. Meanwhile London's Heathrow Airport expects about one-third of its flights to take off and land on Tuesday, and the airport is now facing an enormous backlog.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

The snow has not only affected flights. The national German railway, Deutsche Bahn, offered customers an apology and promised an improvement in service after a disastrous weekendof delays and cancelled trains. Deutsche Bahn manager in charge of passenger transport, Ulrich Homburg, told the mass-circulation Bild newspaper: "We will put every train we have into operation and ensure that the main long-distance routes are properly served; our regional trains and bus fleets are working hard to ensure everyone reaches their destinations this Christmas."

Deutsche Bahn was heavily criticized last weekend for asking customers to postpone their train trips to a less busy time. It seems the company's problems are not, however, purely the result of being taken by surprise by the sudden heavy snow -- they hark back to management decisions made by former CEO Hartmut Mehdorn, who cut costs by closing down workshops and investing less in equipment.

According to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, his successor Rudiger Grübe, aims to correct the situation with a 41 million euro investment in new trains and infrastructure -- but it won't happen overnight. Meanwhile Deutsche Bahn has no reserve trains to use while they perform compulsory winter checks on the operating trains.

Monday evening also saw a number of car accidents on German highways, resulting in four light injuries. But overall the nation's roadways were so quiet that even the police were surprised, according to dpa.

jap -- with wire reports

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