Sunday, December 19, 2010

Snow and Ice Create Travel Chaos in Europe; Heathrow Shut Today to Arrivals

The air-train-road travel mess continues this weekend in Britain and the rest of western and northern Europe, which has been whacked by snow and freezing temperatures. Airports are a mess, and getting an alternate flight out this week is going to be a challenge if you've had a flight canceled.

Heathrow Airport, which was shut yesterday, said it will not accept arriving flights today. Backups are spreading throughout the air-travel system. There are reports that many aircraft are stranded on tarmacs at some regional airports.

Here's the report in the Guardian newspaper on conditions in Britain.

My Sunday newspapers seemed to be full of airy-fairy warmth-of-the-season holiday stories, limp features that have been sitting in some editor's drawer for months, and the usual incremental process news, and had nothing substantive on this remarkable crisis in Europe.

CNN did have a report, which began:

"On Saturday, frigid temperatures and extreme conditions pummeled Europe. From Northern Ireland to Bulgaria, blizzard conditions left airports with heavy delays or shut them entirely. Snow, ice and fog have caused travel chaos ahead of a busy holiday travel week. And severe weather could continue on Monday as another series of weather systems move in, said Met Office special forecaster Tony Burgess."

On Monday, more snow is expected in England, including some more possible accumulation in London. Below-normal temperatures are expected to continue in northern Europe.

Meanwhile, here is the statement in full from Heathrow:

"Heathrow Airport will not be accepting arrivals on Sunday, and will only manage a handful of departures as our airfield team continues to deal with the impacts of yesterday's bad weather.

No flights will operate from Terminals 1 or 4 and a limited number of departures will leave from Terminals 3 and 5. We are extremely sorry for the disruption this will cause to passengers and airlines and we stress that passengers must check with their airlines before traveling to the airport. We will provide regular updates and you can contact your airline here.

This morning, we listened carefully to the advice of our airside operations team and reluctantly judged that while Heathrow's northern runway remains clear, the change in temperature overnight led to a significant build up of ice on parking stands around the planes and this requires the airfield to remain closed until it is safe to move planes around.

We have 200 aircraft parking stands and have a team of several hundred people working to treat these airside areas and to keep passengers in the terminal as warm and as comfortable as possible while we do everything we can to get Heathrow moving.

We are removing 30 tons of snow from each stand, but the temperature remains firmly below zero and Heathrow's capacity is limited to the extent that all parking stands are occupied by aircraft, making the job of clearing and treating them more difficult.

Safety is our first priority and we hope this course of action will allow us to offer a fuller service to passengers and airlines using Heathrow tomorrow."


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