Travel chaos eases, Heathrow still a mess

LONDON — Heathrow’s boss announced Wednesday he would give up his hefty bonus this year after the world’s busiest international airport was crippled by snowy conditions. Air and train travel throughout Europe finally began to return to normal.

Passengers queue outside Terminal 3

Passengers queue outside Terminal 3

ONDON — Heathrow’s boss announced Wednesday he would give up his hefty bonus this year after the world’s busiest international airport was crippled by snowy conditions. Air and train travel throughout Europe finally began to return to normal.

Temperatures have picked up in Britain and about 70 per cent of Heathrow’s planned departures — some 900 flights — were expected to operate Wednesday. Airlines are trying to clear a backlog of cancelled flights, after iced-over runways and planes triggered days of chaos and misery for those seeking to travel elsewhere for Christmas.

Heavy criticism of the airport’s inability to cope with snow prompted Colin Matthews, the chief executive of operator BAA, to announce he would forgo his bonus and keep his focus on “keeping people moving and rebuilding confidence in Heathrow.” It was not immediately clear what Matthew’s bonus amounts to, but BAA said his salary and bonuses last year came to 944,000 pounds (US$1.46 million).

Although many passengers finally got on the move Wednesday, some were still stranded and bitter about Heathrow’s management.

“We kept asking questions,” said Michelle Sorrell, who was hoping to finally board a plane to Australia with her husband and two children. “We were given some foam mattresses and a couple of blankets and the rest was up to us.”

Airport officials placed two tents outside Terminal 3 to handle overflow passengers, but crowds were smaller and only one was used. Computer screens there showed 11 out of about 50 incoming flights had been cancelled.

Germany’s Frankfurt airport said schedules were slowly returning to normal after several days of widespread delays caused by winter weather. About 70 flights were cancelled Wednesday out of a daily total of about 1,300, a substantial improvement over the 550 cancellations Tuesday.

The French government said 15 per cent of the flights from Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris would be cancelled Wednesday because of the winter weather.

Eurostar, which offers train services between England, France and Belgium, said routes were operating a near-normal schedule. Still it urged only customers with tickets to show up at terminals, after facing raucous crowds of thousands at ticket halls earlier this week.

Extreme cold temperatures continued to plague parts of Europe.

Denmark experienced its coldest night in 29 years with -22.5 C measured in Holbaek, 65 kilometres west of Copenhagen. Still, Copenhagen’s international airport expected a normal day.

Snow stopped falling in Ireland at around midnight and Dublin Airport pressed hard to catch up after losing most of Tuesday when more than 80,000 tonnes of snow had to be cleared from the runways. Aer Lingus leased 10 additional planes to operate extra flights to Europe and the United States and clear the backlog of delayed customers today. Ryanair said its flights were at full operations.

The snow also affected Ireland’s most famous rock band. U2 stars Bono and the Edge had their return from a gig in Australia disrupted and ended up having to take a four-hour train journey to Dublin after landing in Cork. Fellow passengers largely left them alone, thinking they were members of a U2 “tribute” band.

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