Thousands stranded in airports across Europe as big freeze cancels flights forcing passengers to sleep on camp beds
Fri, 18 Jan 2013 07:49 UTC
More than 1,000 unfortunate travellers resembled refugees at Munich airport as they were left no choice but to sleep overnight on camp beds provided by the airport. Heavy snowfalls and ice led to hundreds of flight cancellations at Germany's second-busiest airport.
Across the country, an estimated 20,000 could be left with nowhere to go as planed stayed grounded. With no hotel capacity available near Munich airport, where 300 flights were cancelled, to deal with the stranded passengers, staff struggled as they handed out blankets and soft drinks.
Miserable passengers were lined up in hundreds of beds for an uncomfortable night's sleep in the waiting areas of Terminal 2.
The take-off runways at Munich had to be cleared of snow eight times on Thursday and overnight to Friday, with nearly 500 personnel in action.
The south German airport had previously cut around 10 percent of scheduled services on Thursday and expected the proportion to rise to 20 percent by the evening weather conditions deteriorated.
The airport originally had 971 flights on its timetable for Thursday.
Edgar Engert, a Munich airport spokesman, speaking yesterday, said: 'We've cleared both of our runways three times already today.'
'We try to keep one in operation at all times, and we are doing a lot of de-icing of planes.'
Hundreds of miles away in Hamburg, there was a human cause to the plethora of delays, as security personnel staged a walkout that gridlocked the passenger terminals.
Out of 20 security checkpoints at the airport, only one was in operation. Passengers were warned of 'extremely lengthy delays' over the walkout called by the Verdi union.
Almost 95 percent of its employees manning the scanners did not report for work, having an obvious effect on passengers.
'Passengers can land in Hamburg but they cannot leave the plane,' said airport executive board chief Michael Eggenschwiler, explaining that the chaos in departures was choking up the rest of the airport.
The combination of the industrial action and the weather will cost the affected counties millions in lost revenue.
An airport spokeswoman: 'Just about nothing is moving - many passengers have missed their planes and tempers are frayed.'
She added that there are long lines leading leading to the terminals and many passengers have missed their planes, leaving them angered by the situation.
There were delays also at Stuttgart airport and across the border in Austria, where Vienna airport was closed to new landings on Friday due to five inches of snow.
Vienna airport was closed for inbound flights from as early as 1:20pm on Thursday, with its website listing more than 160 scrapped flights.
Fraport AG's Frankfurt Airport, Europe's third-busiest in terms of passenger numbers, reported 40 cancellations of flights yesterday of 1,193 takeoffs and landings scheduled.
Basel airport in Switzerland also shut down its landing strips on Friday morning as fleets of snowblowers struggled to clean the runways.
The lack of a security walkout in Munich was bad news for one female passenger arriving from South America.
Customs officials, suspicious at her nervous behaviour on Thursday, stopped and searched the woman to discover 1lb of pure cocaine tucked in a plastic bag hidden beneath her wig.
'It is not every day that we come across cocaine hidden in a braided wig,' said Thomas Meister of the customs office in Munich.
Paris was among French other European cities bracing itself for a white-out this weekend, as huge parts of the country were covered in snow and ice.
The temperature in the Ile de France department, in which the capital is located, was expected to fall below -10c.
'It will be extremely cold and there is likely to be a fair amount of snow,' said a spokesman for France Meteo, suggesting that British visitors should come prepared.
Expatriates in areas such as Brittany, Normandy and the Dordogne were also warned to expect snow, where bad weather warnings were issued.
In all, 38 departments in the west and centre of the country were placed on 'orange alert' - the highest possible.
Despite this, rail and other travel services were generally running smoothly. Alpine ski resorts also reported a huge increase in business thanks to the cold weather.