Hundreds of flights were cancelled and road and rail traffic was severely disrupted across much of Europe on Monday, as heavy snow and freezing weather gripped the continent. Frankfurt airport, Germany's main air hub, cancelled around 500 departing and arriving flights, representing 40 percent of its daily schedule. The busiest airport in Europe, London Heathrow, scrapped nearly 200 flights. Heathrow said a decision was taken 24 hours in advance to cancel 130 flights because visibility was expected to deteriorate as the day wore on, but problems elsewhere in Europe were having an impact too. "The additional cancellations are because a number of airports elsewhere in Europe are experiencing problems so that has a knock-on effect for us," an airport spokesman said.
Heathrow has spent 36 million pounds ($57 million) on upgrading its snow-clearing equipment since 2010, when freezing temperatures and snow almost brought the airport to a halt in the approach to Christmas. Europe's number three airport, Paris's Charles de Gaulle, was also hit. France's civil aviation authority DGAC said it expected to scrap 40 percent of flights to and from Charles de Gaulle and Paris's other main airport, Orly, in a precautionary measure following heavy snowfall on Sunday. Even Munich, a city usually accustomed to taking snow in its stride, cancelled 161 flights at its airport as it grappled with the exceptional conditions.
In Spain, flights bound for Paris, Munich and Frankfurt were hit, leading to the cancellation of 16 flights to and from Barcelona. Smaller airports in Britain were virtually closed down after fresh snow fell in northern and central England overnight, with planes grounded at Manchester, East Midlands and Leeds Bradford. Under-sea train services between Britain and continental Europe were also hit, with Eurostar cancelling six trains linking London with Brussels and also Paris due to speed restrictions on the tracks in northern France. Freezing rain and snow also led to treacherous conditions on railways and roads, causing countless accidents. In southwestern Germany, police recorded more than 1,000 weather-related accidents and in the northeast, near Berlin, an entire section of motorway was shut to traffic.
In Belgium, three people died and two others were seriously injured when a minibus they were travelling in skidded off the road, overturned and caught fire at a motorway exit near Bruges, local authorities said. In Moscow, unusually heavy snowfall of almost 50 centimetres (20 inches) caused traffic jams but did not affect flights at its airports, which are well-equipped for snowstorms. The snowfall over the last four days in the Russian capital exceeded the average for the whole month of January, said Moscow Deputy Mayor Pyotr Biryukov. -AFP