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Snow, Ice Trap Passengers in Europe's Airports

Dec 24, 2010 – 12:15 PM
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Angela Chartlon

AP
PARIS - Travelers spent Christmas Eve camped in airports in Paris and Brussels instead of at feast-laden family tables, after new snowfall and shortages of deicing fluid trapped passengers and snarled travel across Europe.

A scare about the security of a snow-laden terminal roof at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport made matters worse, with crowds asked to clear out of a section of Terminal 2E.

While travel in Britain was improving after days of headaches, snowfall stranded travelers in Ireland and Denmark and shut Duesseldorf airport in Germany for hours.

The exceptionally wintry weather in recent weeks has caused exceptionally sweeping shutdowns, delays and other problems. Cities such as London and Paris, not as accustomed to flying planes in below-freezing temperatures as say Moscow or Stockholm, buckled under the snow. Exasperated passengers assailed transport authorities for not being prepared.

To try to ease the pain of a Christmas under the glaring lights of an airport terminal, Paris' airport authority plans to hand out gifts to children forced to sleep at Charles de Gaulle overnight.

The airport also got an early Christmas gift flown in from the United States on Friday - two shipments of precious deicing fluid to get planes off the snowy ground. Authorities had halved the numbers of takeoffs from Charles de Gaulle throughout the morning.

Cancellations and delays continued in the afternoon, with flights reduced by 35 percent. The airport authority said it hoped things would return to normal Saturday.

Security officers brought in 700 cots as well as blankets and floor mats, and extra rooms were reserved in nearby hotels. The airport turned up the heat and installed all-night police and ambulance patrols for the strange holiday vigil, said airport authority chief Pierre Graff.

In Brussels, the Red Cross was bringing in hundreds of cots for passengers spending the night at the airport. Airport spokesman Jan Van der Cruysse said they expected that several hundred passengers would remain stranded overnight.

Adding to the holiday drama, passengers at the Paris airport were asked to leave a section of a major terminal for security reasons because of large amounts of snow on the roof, Bernard Cathelain, deputy director of the Paris airport authority ADP, told The Associated Press.

He and passengers present during the incident denied French media reports that the terminal was ever evacuated. Passengers were asked to move to another part of the terminal.

A roof at terminal 2E collapsed in 2004, killing four travelers and sending tons of glass, steel and concrete showering down.

France's famed strikes played a role in Friday's travel troubles, too. A walkout at a French factory involved in the production of deicing fluid exacerbated shortages, forcing France to import the fluid, France's transport minister said.

Laurianne Bertrand, a 33-year-old French citizen living in Cairo, was trying Friday to reach family in Marseille but got stuck at Paris' Charles de Gaulle.

"It really does matter for the grandparents. They are waiting for us in Marseille," she told the AP. "We want to be with them, but there are worse things in life. I want to stay optimistic. Frankly in that kind of situation you have to be, otherwise you can't handle it."

Ramona Sansotta, a 23-year-old trying to get home to Genoa, spent Thursday night in Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport - only to see her flight canceled again Friday.

"They brought us some blankets, but no one here could speak our language and we don't speak French. So after we spent the whole night here they canceled our flight again. And now we hope to get back home before Christmas," she said.

Shortages of the fluid hit airports in Ireland and Belgium as well, leading to a domino effect of delays around the continent.

Surprise snow threw Ireland's main Dublin airport into chaos with some 40,000 travelers stranded or delayed. With people giving up on air travel a day before Christmas, Irish Ferries added extra crossings between Britain and Ireland.

"We have no spare capacity. We've run out of aircraft, deicing fluid or crews at various locations," said Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary.

Siobhan Moore, spokeswoman for Dublin Airport, said thousands of stranded passengers are "tired and stressed and emotional, all entirely understandable at this time of year."

The unexpected Irish cold snap is also killing cows, sheep and pigs - and particularly young salmon at Ireland's fish farms that are used to stock lakes in springtime for anglers.
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In Britain, major airports said services were operating largely as normal as the country thawed out from days of frosty weather. However, Christmas travelers were contending with reduced rail services and icy roads. About a quarter of services were canceled on some rail routes.

In Germany, Duesseldorf airport closed for several hours Friday morning because of new snowfall, with some 65 flights canceled.

In Denmark, Police in the Baltic Sea island of Bornholm urged people to stay indoors, meaning many weren't able to reach families for the traditional Christmas Eve celebrations.

Some 400 passengers on two ferries to the island spent Thursday night on the ferries. On Friday, the passengers were able to reach the port city of Roenne, where they were lodged in military barracks and a sports facility.


Shawn Pogatchnik in Dublin, David Stringer in London, Geir Moulson in Berlin, Slobodan Lekic in Brussels and Louise Nordstrom in Stockholm contributed to this report.
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