Airport Christmas for Europe’s stranded travelers

By Catherine Bremer

PARIS (BestGrowthStock) – Hundreds of travelers whose flights were grounded by icy weather in Europe spent Christmas Day jammed in airport queues after sleeping overnight on camp beds in Paris and Brussels terminals.

Flight schedules returned to normal in Paris on Saturday, as emergency supplies of de-icing fluid got planes off the ground.

But the chaos left many angry about repeated weather disruption this month that upset end-year travel for hundreds of thousands of people and raised questions about the inability of the air and rail industries to deal with snowy conditions.

“It is not acceptable that Roissy Charles de Gaulle has this supply problem with glycol,” Air France Chief Executive Pierre-Henri Gourgeon said of Paris’ main airport, which had to bring in deliveries of de-icer from Germany and United States.

Environment Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet said the government would look into what went wrong and how airports could avoid future shortages of de-icing fluid.

Travelers at Roissy were relieved to finally board planes but many still missed Christmas dinners at their destinations. Travel chaos was compounded by disruptions to high-speed trains and clogged roads from England to Sweden in one of Europe’s snowiest Decembers.

“We already had a nightmare in England and now this here,” one man groaned on France’s LCI television.

Airports operated largely normally in Britain, Belgium and Germany on Saturday, although there were some cancellations in Frankfurt and Zurich. Several hundred people had slept overnight in Paris and Brussels airports, or in nearby hotels.

At Roissy, staff handed out instant coffee and pastries for breakfast and Transport Minister Thierry Mariani also told passengers he would look into what caused the de-icer shortage.

At least 300 people slept on military-style beds at Roissy on Friday after some 400 flights were canceled. More slept at nearby hotels, where authorities had reserved 3,300 rooms.

While some people cried into mobile phones as departure boards showed long lists of cancellations, others prayed at a mass held at the airport 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, toys and dolls 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.”

SNOW STILL FALLING

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.

“Of course I feel responsible,” Paris airports authority chief Pierre Graff told LCI television.

Brussels’ airport had laid out camp beds for a few hundred people on Friday, but in the end only fifty spent the night there, said airport spokesman Jan Van der Cruysse.

“We are back to normal now. There some delays still but a lot of airlines have also added extra flights to compensate for yesterday,” he added.

In Britain, snow delayed tens of thousands of passengers this week. Despite bitter overnight temperatures as low as minus 18 degrees Celsius (-0.4 degrees Fahrenheit) in parts of Scotland and England, there was little new snow on Saturday.

A spokeswoman for London’s Heathrow Airport said only a handful of flights would be canceled on Christmas Day.

“There are no snow-related delays today, apart from any cancellations to other airports that aren’t open,” the spokeswoman said. “As an airport we are operating fine.”

Eurostar trains linking London with Paris and northern Europe were not running for Christmas Day but should run a close-to-normal service on Sunday. Eurostar was hit with delays during the week because of snow and ice.

In Germany, 30 cm (12 inches) of snow fell overnight, causing train delays between Hannover and Berlin. Light road traffic on Christmas Day meant fewer problems were reported, however, and airports were operating normally.

(Additional reporting by Peter Griffiths in London, Justyna Pawlak in Brussels and Erik Kirschbaum in Berlin; Editing by Peter Graff)

Airport Christmas for Europe’s stranded travelers