Sat, Dec 25, 2010 - Page 6 News List

Weather strands thousands at Paris airport

AFP, PARIS

Thousands of travelers were stranded at Paris’ main airport yesterday as freezing conditions forced the cancelation of nearly 60 flights, with the prospect of further delays into Christmas Day.

French aviation authorities said they had canceled half of the flights serving Paris Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport until 1pm yesterday because they were struggling to de-ice aircraft in the extreme conditions.

French Transport Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, who visited the airport late on Thursday, warned that the delays could, for some passengers, extend into Christmas Day.

“There have been 58 flights canceled this afternoon at Roissy, essentially because of a problem de-icing” the aircraft, Kosciusko-Morizet said.

“That represents 6,000 to 7,000 passengers,” of whom 2,000 were in the airport itself in the small hours yesterday morning, she added.

About half of the delayed passengers were not likely to get a flight out yesterday, Christmas Eve, she said.

Forecasters were expecting below-freezing conditions yesterday morning and the airport was having trouble getting hold of enough glycol, the liquid used to de-ice aircraft, aviation officials said in a statement late on Thursday.

Charles de Gaulle airport had only just cleared the backlog from the delays caused earlier in the week by the freezing conditions, which on Monday saw thousands of passengers forced to spend two nights running sleeping there.

Of the passengers unable to travel, some local people returned home, others were put up in nearby hotels and two gym halls opened by local authorities, an airport official said.

Air France said it had provided 3,500 hotel rooms for its customers.

At the airport itself, meanwhile, officials set up hundreds of camp beds for passengers with nowhere else to go.

“It’s unacceptable!” protested one man, who had been due to fly to Casablanca, Morocco, for his brother’s wedding.

“Everyone’s blaming each other, the company, the airport management,” his tearful wife said. “They’ve been giving us the runaround all day in the airport without taking into account the fact that I’m pregnant.”

In Britain, the operator of London’s Heathrow airport said on Thursday it had launched an external inquiry into the handling of the snow chaos that left thousands of passengers stranded there earlier in the week.

Spanish-owned operator BAA announced the inquiry as Heathrow, the world’s busiest airport for international passenger traffic, began to get back on track with about 90 percent of flights operating after days of cancelations.

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