EU transport head attacks ill-prepared airport chiefs

The European Union criticised continental airport operators yesterday for failing to deal adequately with the heavy snow and freezing weather which has closed runways, forced the cancellation of thousands of flights and left thousands of travellers stranded.

Siim Kallas, the European Transport Commissioner, lashed out at airport managers and urged them to "get serious" about planning for cold weather like their counterparts in other parts of Europe.

He said airport infrastructure across most of western and central Europe had been unable to cope with the cold weather. "It seems at this stage that this is a weak link in a chain which, under pressure, is contributing to severe disruption," he added.

Thousands of air travellers continue to face severe disruption at airports across Germany, France, Holland and Belgium. Frankfurt airport, the continent's largest, closed for three hours on Monday night because of a snow storm which forced the cancellation of some 300 flights.

The cancellations caused a domino effect across the rest of Germany with flights cancelled at Munich, Berlin and Hamburg airports.

In France, officials said they were working round the clock to clear a backlog at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. There was similar disruption at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport and in Brussels.

Travellers attempting to avoid airport chaos by switching to the trains fared no better. Eurostar passengers travelling from London to Belgium and France have been hit by mass cancellations brought about by rail speed restrictions.

In Germany, Deutsche Bahn, the national rail service, faced delays after speed limits were enforced to stop train undercarriages being damaged by blocks of ice. Many inter-city trains were heavily overcrowded as flight passengers resorted to trains. In southern Sweden, a region used to heavy snow, nearly a third of scheduled services were cancelled yesterday.

Christmas forecast

Today

Temperatures will remain freezing, not helped by a strong north wind. Heavy snow will cause problems for the Midlands and eastern England.



Tomorrow

Strong winds will continue as wintry showers hit the east. The north and coastal areas will be warmer.



Christmas Eve

Still freezing but most of the country will have clear skies.



Christmas Day

Sunny in the south, cloudy in the north with a low of 5C in Birmingham.

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