Trains, British Airways planes, and automobiles all yield to Europe's snow

British Airways flights were canceled and delayed today due to snow and ice, with forecasters predicting bad weather through Wednesday. Travelers' frustrations mounted at airports over poor snow removal.

By , Staff writer

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    Airline passenger baggage is left in Terminal 3 at Heathrow Airport in west London on Dec. 20. Snow and freezing temperatures delayed flights across northern Europe on Monday, frustrating travelers trying to get away for Christmas and putting pressure on airline shares.
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• A summary of global reports on Europe's weather.

Outrage over Britain's inability to cope with a few inches of snow is mounting for travelers worldwide affected by the massive cancellations and delays at London's Heathrow airport.

The British Airways flight status at the busiest airport in all of Europe continued to show mass cancellations and delays today, stranding tens of thousands of travelers in London as the United Kingdom and much of northern Europe struggles to dig itself out from a layer of snow and ice. At least 100,000 Britons have been stranded overseas, according to The Telegraph.

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“Severe weather continues to cause significant disruption to our operations,” British Airways said in a statement posted today on its website.

“ALL shorthaul flights [out of London Heathrow] after 12 p.m. midday have been cancelled,” British Airways added (see flight updates here).

Even more air travelers are stranded around the world because their flights into the UK are also halted until the airports dig themselves out.

Among those affected by the snow was the Monitor's correspondent Scott Peterson, who was stuck in southern England over the weekend and unable to fly back to Istanbul. “I’m looking out at a load of snow right now,” he said today from East Sussex, an hour south of London, while preparing to drive a friend to Heathrow Airport this afternoon. He said he was planning three hours for what is normally a 90-minute drive because of "chaos" on the roadways.

"In looking at the television and listening to the radio, it’s clear that there are tens of thousands of passengers that have been held up by this storm," he says. "British press are describing in very stark terms that half a million people’s holidays have been ‘ruined’ or ‘wrecked.' "

Only one of two runways at London Heathrow was operating today, reported Reuters. The airport was offering immediate responses to flight questions via its Twitter feed.

Flight departures from Brussels were canceled until Wednesday due to a lack of de-icing liquid, reported the BBC, while 30 percent of flights from Paris's two main airports, Charles de Gaulle and Orly, were canceled. Russian news agency RTT reported that air traffic was also crippled in Spain, the Netherlands, and Croatia.

The New York Times said there are "repercussions felt by travelers across the globe." Hong Kong-based airline Cathay Pacific and Sydney-based airline Qantas both canceled or delayed flights into London.

Along with planes, trains and automobiles across Europe have been affected.

And the snow continues to fall. Britain's national weather service, the Met Office, forecast up to 20 cm (8 inches) of additional snowfall today across southwest England. "The icy weather shows no sign of loosening its grip on the UK over the next few days, with further snow in some areas potentially leading to disruption to travel networks," the Met said in a statement Sunday.

The BAA and GIP, the companies that operate Heathrow and Gatwick airports, respectively, have come under heavy criticism for failing to adequately prepare for the weather despite reportedly investing millions in snow removal equipment.

Both airlines are responding by pledging to beef up their ability to combat the snow. BAA has pledged to spend another £3 million ($4.65 million) in the next two years to boost Heathrow’s 69-vehicle snow clearance fleet, reported the Financial Times, while GIP announced that it plans to spend another £8 million ($12.42 million) in the next year to double its number of snow plows from 47 to 95.

The BAA has offered an apology amid incredulity that London's airports could be shut down while other northern airports – such as Stockholm and Moscow – rarely face such delays. "I'm really disappointed to have disrupted so many thousands of people's Christmas plans," BAA Chief Executive Colin Matthews said on the BBC Radio 4 Today.

The apology, however, seems unlikely to smooth over the cold feeling among flyers.

"Grinch-like angst was the overarching theme at airports and travel hubs," the Monitor's Ben Quinn reported Sunday from London, adding: "While some Britons are enjoying a winter wonderland, the inclement weather has brought the country to a near standstill, affecting the economy and costing at least one politician his job."

Scotland’s Transport secretary, Stewart Stevenson, resigned on Dec. 11 after admitting to failures in his handling of the response to snow.

London Mayor Boris Johnson seemed to sum up the frustration today in his comments to the BBC.

"It can't be beyond the wit of man surely to find the shovels, the diggers, the snow-ploughs or whatever it takes to clear the snow out from under the planes, to get the planes moving and to have more than one runway going," he said.

On a similar note, in a comment on the Guardian's website, an American reader said of Heathrow: "The Airport itself said only a few inches of snow fell, calling it 'an extreme amount of snow.' What? ... My hometown's little airport in the US regularly handles a foot of snow."

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