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Christmas travellers stranded at Heathrow

Dec 20 2010 07:17 AFP

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London - Hundreds of Christmas travellers faced a third day stranded at London's Heathrow airport Monday as arctic conditions sparked fresh flight delays and cancellations.

Heavy snow and thick ice all but closed Heathrow, the busiest international passenger air hub in the world, over the weekend and forced holidaymakers to set up camp at the airport on Saturday night.

But there was little respite for people trying to get away for the festive period at Heathrow and other airports across the country, with operators admitting that the chaos was set to stretch into Christmas week.

Britain's roads and railways were also hit by the harsh winter weather, with some roads made impassable after drivers abandoned their vehicles in heavy snow and passengers being ejected onto freezing platforms from broken-down trains.

With forecasters predicting this month could be the coldest December for a century, Britain braced for further problems Monday with up to 20 centimetres (eight inches) of snow expected in some places.

At Heathrow, disappointment turned to anger and frustration for Christmas travellers as their wait dragged on. Some said they running out of money, while others reported lengthy queues for toilets and plug sockets for mobile phones.

Trevor Taylor, who had been waiting with his wife and two young sons for a flight for Singapore for two days, described conditions at Terminal 5 as "absolute mayhem".

"Frustration is building up. I've been sleeping on a knobbly marble floor and every space you can see is taken," the 37-year-old said.

Although passengers were advised to leave the airport if their flight had been cancelled, treacherous conditions on the roads and fully booked hotels meant some had no option but to stick it out at the airport, he said.

There were a handful of arrivals and departures from Heathrow on Sunday, and the airport warned that disruption was set to continue.

A statement from Heathrow, which is operated by BAA, said the airport would operate a limited service from 08:00 Monday, but warned of knock-on effects from the weekend shutdown.

"We expect further cancellations and delays in the coming days, as airlines move diverted aircraft and crew back to their normal positions," it said.

Hundreds of passengers also slept at London's Gatwick airport on Saturday, although the situation there was improving on Sunday.

Other major airports, including London Stansted, London Luton, Birmingham, Glasgow and Bristol also faced delays and cancellations due to the weather.

Car breakdown service AA predicted it would answer about 14,000 call-outs on Sunday, double the average. Part of a major train route between London and Edinburgh was suspended, leaving hundreds of passengers stranded.

europe  |  snow
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