More delays as bad weather bites

2010-12-20 12:14

Johannesburg - It's a good time to be the fat man in a red suit who travels in a reindeer-powered sleigh as travellers worldwide wait on Monday for the UK and Europe's snowed-out airports to clear ahead of the Christmas holidays.

"The severe weather is causing disruption at our airports in England and Scotland," said BAA, the authority that manages the UK's main airports, including Heathrow which handles flights to about 180 destinations in 90 countries.

On December 18, the airport informed users that snow and adverse weather conditions had resulted in many cancelled flights and a build-up of delays.

This was in spite of a £500 000 investment for snow clearing technology and 60 vehicles and 50 staff on hand to keep the runway clear and make sure supplies of grit were well stocked.

BAA said on Monday that Heathrow airport would be open and operating a limited schedule of arrivals and departures, but expected further cancellations and delays in the coming days.

This was as airlines had to move diverted aircraft and crew back to their normal positions and manage the impact of the poor weather over the weekend and in the days ahead, according to a statement posted on its website.

Other airports, such as Stansted, advised travellers to check with them first before going to the airport as "some flights may still be subject to delay or cancellation".

In France, about 40% of the flights at Paris's Charles-de-Gaulle airport were cancelled on Sunday.

Agence France Presse reported that French authorities had cancelled three out of 10 flights on Monday.

Frustrated SMS messages and tweets from travellers opting to swop South Africa's wet Christmas for a white one read along the lines of: "Flight got cancelled by snowstorm." Many airlines inform customers by SMS of delays, but according to reports, some stranded travellers had bedded down in airport waiting halls.

Comment was not immediately available from the Airports Company of SA on how stranded travellers were being accommodated, or what the overall impact was on flights in and out of its airports.

Its website also did not contain information on Monday morning.

The Star newspaper reported that the greatest frustration was a lack of communication to travellers already at the airport.

Meanwhile, the UK's Daily Mail grumpily headlined its article on the subject: "Not our finest hour! Planes grounded, thousands of festive holidays ruined, roads ungritted, drivers stranded for hours . . . and all because it snowed."