Temperatures plunged below -10C on the coldest night of the year so far, with 34cm of snow falling in parts of Scotland by Thursday morning.
The airport announced that the heavy snow in Manchester had forced it to close both its runways, with international arrivals diverted.
Dozens of flights were grounded, with disruption likely set to continue through the day even though the runways reopened by 9am.
The airport said in a statement at 6.20am: “Following a period of heavy snowfall, we have temporarily closed both runways.
“Health and safety will always be our top priority and operations will resume at the earliest opportunity.”
Temperatures languished below freezing in all parts of the country on Thursday morning as the airport announced the closures, and National Highways said that snow on the nearby M56 motorway was also causing delays of up to 45 minutes – with five miles of heavy congestion.
An update from the airport before 8am showed little sign of improvement, saying: “Our runways remain closed as we continue to clear the airfield following a fresh snow deposit in the last hour.”
An hour later, the airport announced the runways had reopened, advising passengers that they should still contact their airline for the most up-to-date flight information.
It comes just a month after a severe cold snap brought air travel to a halt, with snow and ice forcing runway closures at multiple airports and causing hundreds of flights to be grounded.
The last flight to land at Manchester on Thursday morning was a Tui flight from Banjul in Gambia, shortly after 4.30am, with other intercontinental arrivals diverted elsewhere.
During the disruption, Aer Lingus from New York JFK, Etihad from Abu Dhabi and Qatar Airways from Doha were all forced to touch down in Birmingham, while the Cathay Pacific arrival from Hong Kong was sent to Heathrow, and an Aer Lingus flight from Barbados was diverted to Dublin.
While pilots may decide to fly on to Manchester now that the runways have reopened, passengers could also be put on buses where possible and brought to Manchester.
Many of the passengers are on links to Heathrow, Paris and Amsterdam with intercontinental connections which will now be missed.
Departure cancellations are under way, with Emirates to Dubai, KLM to Amsterdam, Lufthansa to Frankfurt, and Aer Lingus to Belfast all grounded.
More than 150 flights are scheduled to depart Manchester Airport today – equating to nearly 30,000 seats, according to aviation analytics firm Cirium. Of these, 31 are Ryanair flights, while Easyjet has 24.
Weather alerts for snow and ice are currently in force across much of the UK, including in Manchester, with forecasters having warned people to brace for travel disruption.
The UK Health Security Agency has issued its second-strongest alert for cold weather, warning of conditions in England that “could increase the health risks to vulnerable patients and disrupt the delivery of services”.
Temperatures plummetted overnight on Wednesday, hitting as low as -10.4C in Drumnadrochit, in the Scottish Highlands, and -7.4C in Topcliffe, in North Yorkshire.
Met Office forecaster Marco Petagna said: “Parts of north-west Scotland still have 34cm of snow lying, elsewhere this is around 9cm, and in sites across Northern Ireland we’ve got 7cm, and in Wales as well.
“The main thing elsewhere is frost and ice, showers are focused towards the north and west of the UK, so elsewhere a frosty and icy, but dry start.
“Lighter winds in the south on Thursday, so it’s not going to feel quite as raw, even though temperatures are still cold, there will be less of a wind chill effect.
“Gradually it will turn less cold over the next few days, we hold onto it generally today and tomorrow, but into the weekend Atlantic air starts to come in, bringing temperatures up to double figures.”
Under European air passengers’ rights rules, travellers whose flights are cancelled or delayed are entitled to be flown to their destination as soon as possible – and must be provided with meals, and if necessary accommodation, until they are able to travel.
But with many aircraft flying very full there are limited options for getting people where they need to be.
Cash compensation is not payable to passengers because the closure is classed as an “extraordinary circumstance”. Even so, the cost to airlines is likely to run into millions of pounds.
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