Snow Freezes European Travel

With less than a week until Christmas, Europe remains gripped by a big freeze which has left travellers stranded at airports around the continent.

Arctic weather conditions are expected to continue for the next few days, causing more travel chaos in several countries.

Britain’s largest airport, Heathrow, is struggling to cope with snow and ice, and hundreds of thousands of travellers have been left stranded.

For a third night, thousands of frustrated passengers are bedding down at the airport’s terminals.

Two of the five terminals have been closed to any new arrivals as they are full to overflowing.

In an effort to clear the backlog of flights, Britain is relaxing night flying restrictions at Heathrow for the next four days.

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said operating hours at the airport would be extended until 1.00am and arrivals for repatriation flights would be allowed throughout the night.

“The immediate focus at Heathrow must be maximising the number of flights with the available infrastructure,” Transport Secretary Philip Hammond told parliament.

“In order to do this I have agreed with (airport operators) BAA this morning the relaxation of restrictions on night flights for the next four days.”

Rail

Rail routes out of Britain are no better, with restricted Eurostar services and five-hour queues just to get inside London’s St Pancras rail station.

The delays are expected to continue until at least Christmas Day, and Eurostar has told all passengers booked to travel before the holiday to consider cancelling their journey unless it is essential for them to travel.

It has also urged travellers to stay away from St Pancras and its main station in Paris, Gare du Nord, as it struggles to cope with the backlog.

At St Pancras, passengers formed a slow-moving line that stretched for hundreds of metres around the block outside the station.

With temperatures hovering around freezing, charity workers handed out cups of tea to passengers wrapped up in scarves, gloves and woolly hats.

Some said they had been waiting for five hours or more and expected to be queuing late into the night.

“The last train is going at 11.00pm, so we might get on that one, or we might not,” one passenger told the BBC.

“We have tried calling the ferries and the hovercraft and they are full. Airports are closed, so this was the only option left.”

The unexpected cold snap has forced Eurostar to impose speed limits on its cross-Channel trains, adding up to two hours to journey times. That meant fewer trains were available to carry passengers.

A Eurostar spokesman said it had cancelled 13 out of 52 trains on Monday. The trains are each capable of carrying about 750 passengers.

“St Pancras is a very busy station today, however we continue to run a service, as we have over the last four days,” he said.

“It is super frustrating for customers who have been down there today, but we have been doing what we can to get them moving as quickly as possible.

“We plan to run a service tomorrow which will … be at least equal or hopefully a few more services than we’ve had today.”

The worst early-winter weather for years has severely disrupted air travel, railways and roads across northern Europe.

Freezing conditions last year also severely disrupted Eurostar trains, trapping hundreds of passengers in the subsea tunnel just before Christmas.

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