Christmas travellers given glimmer of hope

Christmas travel misery began to ease today - a day late for Heathrow Airport's boss who decided to sacrifice his 2010 bonus.

As thousands of exhausted passengers finally began to move at the airport, under-fire Colin Matthews announced he would forgo his annual bonus.

Last year he took home £944,000 in salary and bonuses.

Mr Matthews, BAA's chief executive, said: "I have decided to give up my bonus for the current year. My focus is on keeping people moving and rebuilding confidence in Heathrow."

BAA would not reveal how much his bonus was.

Heathrow, the world's largest international airport, has made headlines for days as massive amounts of flights were cancelled because of the snow and ice and passengers were left stranded.

Critics slammed Heathrow as a third-world airport and blasted the management's inability to cope with the big freeze.

Earlier, Mick Rix, the GMB union's national officer for the aviation industry, said paying him "a huge bonus" would be "an absolute slap in the face to the thousands of people who have been stranded at Heathrow for the past three days".

Mayor of London Boris Johnson said BAA had "very serious lessons" to learn from the chaos.

And BMI chief executive Wolfgang Prock-Schauer claimed the airport "did not have enough de-icing fluid" - something a Heathrow Airport spokesman tonight strenuously denied.

"It is categorically untrue that we have either run out of de-icer, failed to order enough de-icer or accepted de-icer supplies from the government," the spokesman said.

Britain's transport network was largely paralysed this week by heavy snowfall and freezing conditions.

But today, travellers were given a glimmer of hope as airports began to operate close to capacity and, according to Network Rail, 70% of trains ran on time.

After reopening its second runway yesterday, Heathrow hoped to fulfil two-thirds of its business but stressed passengers should not expect an immediate return to normality.

The news was largely echoed around the UK with the vast majority of regional airports saying business was almost back to normal.

Only nine flights out of 617 at Gatwick were cancelled today.

All airports continued to tell customers to check with their airline if their flight was operating.

And after cancelling more than 2,000 flights, British Airways said it hoped tomorrow and Christmas Eve would see it operate a full long-haul departure schedule from Heathrow. It will also operate a normal schedule at Gatwick and London City airports.

Sean Tipton, of the Association of British Travel Agents, said: "The travel industry is very pleased that both Heathrow and Gatwick are returning to normal service.

"However, there will still be some delays and cancellations due to the many aircraft being out of position.

"Many package holidaymakers whose flights were cancelled over the weekend will now be jetting off on holiday due to their flights being rescheduled."

After the Eurostar was crippled yesterday, a company spokesman today said it was running 90% of its service.

"There is virtually no queue in the station and we are carrying people to their final destination," he said.

The travel improvement coincided with weather forecasters predicting relatively mild weather in the run up to Christmas Day.

Tonight, the majority of the UK should stay dry but cold with slight snow showers in the Midlands, eastern Wales and parts of East Anglia.

The delayed Christmas getaway heaped work on road rescue groups who reported another busy day today, with an expected 21,000 call-outs by the end of the day.

Saying they were dealing with more than twice their normal amount of call-outs, Darron Burness, head of special operations, said: "Today is even busier than yesterday with more long-distance getaway traffic plus abnormally high levels of traffic to retail outlets. We expect this to build to a peak tomorrow with traffic building from lunchtime with an extended evening rush-hour."

Red Cross is urging people to look out for their elderly and vulnerable neighbours.

In Oxford, police today found the body of a woman and her dog in an ice-covered river.

The identity of the woman has not been confirmed yet but is believed to be Ann Powles, 74. She went missing on Monday. The body was recovered from the River Cherwell, near the Sunnymead Recreation Ground.