London: Airline and international train services were limping back towards normal in parts of Europe on Wednesday, but the lingering effects of ice and snow that caused widespread chaos still weighed on schedules.
The disruptions to airlines and high-speed trains in continental Europe, and linking Britain to the continent, created a nightmare before Christmas scenario for tens of thousands of travellers since the weekend, when heavy snow fell.
They also brought calls for legislation to force airports to deal more effectively with snow and other bad weather.
European Union transport chief Siim Kallas said he was considering forcing airports to provide a minimum level of infrastructure support during severe weather.
London’s Heathrow, the world’s busiest international airport, and Frankfurt Airport, the biggest on the continent, which both had severe disruptions earlier in the week, said on their websites that operations were returning to normal.
Heathrow said it had reopened its second runway on Tuesday, offering a ray of hope for thousands of passengers stranded in departure halls, some for days in scenes that British newspapers said resembled refugee camps.
“The southern runway at Heathrow is now open. Airlines are currently operating a significantly reduced schedule while they move diverted aircraft and crew back into position,” airport operator BAA, owned by Spain’s Ferrovial, said on its website.
British Airways said that in line with a directive from BAA, it would operate only a third of its normal flight schedule at Heathrow until 06:00 am on Thursday.
“It will take some time to rebuild an operation of our size and complexity at our hub airport, Heathrow,” the airline said on its website.
“We ask you not to travel to the airport unless you have a confirmed booking on one of the flights that is operating.”
Flights to and from Frankfurt Airport resumed on Tuesday morning after the airport was shut for several hours overnight.
German airline Lufthansa said the situation at Frankfurt “is gradually returning to normal” and that it “sees good prospects for a return to normal flight operations”.
Eurostar, operator of the high-speed train between London and Brussels and Paris, said it would resume normal check-in service, but asked passengers not to show up until an hour before departure “to avoid congestion and an unnecessary wait”.
On Tuesday, thousands of people were forced to queue in frigid temperatures for hours around St. Pancras station in north London as every available Eurostar seat was snapped up by travellers bounced from airlines.
Eurostar said nine of its 52 trains would be cancelled on Wednesday but that passengers for those services would be “reallocated onto one of the next available trains”.
Although the logjam of travellers was starting to ease, many passengers were irate.
“This was our holiday of a lifetime,” a man at Heathrow who’d been planning to travel with his wife told Sky News. “And it’s a nightmare.”