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Europe

Airports strive for normal service as travel chaos eases

Passengers stranded around northern Europe have been boosted by the news that most main airports were resuming near-normal service on Wednesday. Extended train services were meant to help clear the backlog in Germany.

Air passengers using camp beds at Frankfurt airport

Frankfurt airport provided cots for the thousands staying overnight

Frankfurt airport was open and running at close to full capacity on Wednesday. Seventy flights were canceled out of a scheduled 1,300.

"The airport operation is getting back to normal," airport spokesman Thomas Uber said. "But it will take a while to catch up." There was a backlog of around 3,500 passengers at Germany's busiest hub.

A spokeswoman for London Heathrow, Europe's busiest airport, said it was operating 70 percent of a normal day's service on Wednesday.

Both of Heathrow's runways were open again, but airport operator BAA had said that it would need time to move diverted aircraft and crew into position. British Airways said it would only be operating around a third of its flights from Heathrow until 6:00 a.m. on Thursday.

Germany's biggest airline, Lufthansa, announced on Tuesday evening that it was preparing to return to a standard long-haul flight schedule, although domestic routes would still be disrupted. The airline reported no problems on Wednesday morning.

Extra train services

Passengers wait at London Heathrow airport

Days of snow and ice have stopped travelers in their tracks

Airlines were still advising passengers to seek alternative transportation, as they tried to catch up after days of delayed and canceled services.

Eurostar, the high-speed rail link between London, Paris and Brussels, said nine of its 52 trains would be canceled on Wednesday, but that passengers would be given seats on the next available trains.

Germany's national rail operator, Deutsche Bahn, was providing extra train services from Wednesday to cope with the high level of demand. A special long-distance timetable was to run until December 31.

"We are considerably overburdened," Deutsche Bahn board member Berthold Huber said. The rail operator Bahn planned to concentrate on its busy north-south and east-west routes, pulling some high speed trains away from quieter services. Huber estimated that around 50,000 extra passengers per day were looking to make long-distance rail trips over the Christmas period.

Days of travel disruption

The European Commission on Tuesday criticized transport providers for not dealing well enough with the recent freezing weather conditions.

"I am extremely concerned about the level of disruption to travel across Europe caused by severe snow," the European transport commissioner, Siim Kallas, said in a statement. "It is unacceptable and should not happen again."

Food and drink being given out to passengers waiting at Frankfurt airport

Free food and drink has been given out to passengers waiting at Frankfurt

Kallas was particularly critical of airports, and said he would meet with air travel officials in the coming days to look into how they would ensure "minimum service requirements" were met in the future.

Around 3,000 flights were canceled across Europe on Tuesday, with a similar amount of planes remaining grounded on each of the four previous days.

Unexpected snowfall caused Frankfurt airport to close for three hours on Tuesday morning, while London Heathrow canceled two-thirds of all flights. Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris and Brussels-Zavanthem airport also recorded numerous delays.

Author: Thomas Sheldrick (Reuters, AP, AFP)
Editor: Nancy Isenson

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