Sun, Dec 26, 2010 - Page 1 News List

Airport Christmas for Europe’s stranded travelers

DINNER ON THE FLY:Travelers stuck at airports during Christmas did not give up on the traditional holiday feast, with some eating smoked salmon out of suitcases

Reuters, PARIS

Hundreds of stranded travelers spent Christmas morning in European airport terminals after sleeping on camp beds overnight as icy weather grounded flights out of Paris and Brussels.

Flight schedules were returning to normal in Paris, thanks to fresh deliveries of de-icing fluid from Germany and the US to get planes off the ground, but many people were still set to miss Christmas dinners at their destinations.

Airports were mostly back to normal in Britain, Belgium and Germany, although there were cancelations in Frankfurt and Zurich. Several hundred people slept in Paris and Brussels airports on Friday night.

Freezing weather and heavy snow have disrupted travel for several days, upsetting year-end travel plans for hundreds of thousands of people and raising questions about the air industry’s lack of preparation for icy weather.

Flight delays and cancelations have been compounded by disruption to high-speed trains and clogged road travel from England to Sweden in one of Europe’s snowiest Decembers.

At Paris Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport, staff handed out instant coffee and pastries for breakfast yesterday and French Transport Minister Thierry Mariani told passengers he would look into what caused an acute shortage of de-icing fluid.

At least 300 people slept on military-style beds at Roissy on Friday after about 400 flights were canceled.

Many slept at nearby hotels, where authorities had reserved 3,300 rooms. While some people cried into mobile phones, others prayed at an airport Mass to be able to get on their flights.

A few brought champagne to drink from plastic cups and ate improvised Christmas Eve suppers of smoked salmon, salad, fish pate and cheese cubes, surrounded by suitcases, as a Santa Claus handed out sweets, dolls and other toys to children.

“The weather is unpredictable,” said Mariani, who arrived at Roissy shortly after midnight on Friday. “You can go to all the effort you like, but at the end of the day it’s the weather.”

The French government has come under fire for a failure to cope with a sudden snowfall this month that left thousands of motorists stuck in cars overnight around Paris, and for a shortage of de-icing fluid at airports that forced 2,000 people to sleep in airport terminals on Thursday night.

Paris airports authority chief Pierre Graff said it had been hard to ramp up local supplies of -de-icer -because only 5 percent of production of the chemical goes to airports.

“Of course I feel responsible,” he told LCI television.

In Britain, snow delayed tens of thousands of passengers this week. Despite bitter overnight temperatures as low as minus 18°C in parts of Scotland and England, there was little new snow yesterday.

A spokeswoman for London’s Heathrow Airport said only a handful of flights would be canceled on Christmas Day. The airport was to handle about 70,000 passengers on 600 flights.

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