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Stiff Upper Lip In Moscow As London Airports Paralyzed By Snow

  • RFE/RL

A helicopter lands next to an Air Berlin plane at the airport of Duesseldorf, Germany, one of many airports struggling to cope with the weather.

A helicopter lands next to an Air Berlin plane at the airport of Duesseldorf, Germany, one of many airports struggling to cope with the weather.

On the darkest day of the year, with snow blanketing most major cities in Europe, tens of thousands of travelers found themselves stranded, waiting in lines or camping out in airports, watching their holidays tick away.

Though major snowfalls stopped in London on December 18, crews were still struggling to free planes of ice at London's Heathrow -- ordinarily Europe's busiest airport.

Only one of the airport's two main runways was operable. At least half of all flights on December 21 were slated for cancellation, and early reports said one in three flights would be operating on December 22.

Another major London airport, Gatwick, reopened after being forced to close late on December 20. A spokesman for the airport said that further delays were "inevitable."

Other major European hubs, including Frankfurt and Brussels' central airport have also faced a string of cancellations. The air-traffic-control group that oversees airports in 38 European countries said that 22,000 flights were canceled on December 20.

WATCH: Hundreds of travelers spent the night in airports waiting for their canceled flights to be rescheduled after unexpected snowfall paralyzed major air hubs (video: Reuters).



'Unacceptable' Lack Of Planning

European Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas reprimanded airport operators for what he called the "unacceptable" travel chaos across the continent.

"Airports simply must get serious about planning for this kind of severe weather conditions," Kallas said in a statement.

"We have seen in recent years that snow in Western Europe is not such an exceptional circumstance, and better preparedness, in line with what is done in Northern Europe, is not at this stage an optional extra," he added.

"It must be planned for and entail the necessary investment, and that message particularly goes to the airports at this stage."

'Normal For Us'

At Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport, where 10 centimeters of fresh snow fell overnight, operations were running like clockwork.

"In the past three years that I have worked at the press office at Sheremetyevo, the airport has never been closed for a few days, it has never even closed for one day," spokesman Roman Genis says, barely suppressing a chuckle.

"There is a routine to winter preparation," he explains. Crew and machines start preparing for winter in mid-October, in order to be ahead of the first snow.

"We have a lot of machinery. When there is a big snowfall, all the machines are brought out, and they clean the runway in a few minutes," Genis continues.

"So, while one runway is being cleaned the other is accepting planes, and then they switch, the other is being cleaned, so planes can land on the cleaned one."

"What feels like Armageddon for Europeans," Genis says, "is just normal life for us."

written by Ashley Cleek, with agency reports
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