LONDON — Frustrated travelers in Europe expressed fury Monday at transportation officials' inability to clear runways and high-speed train tracks after a snowstorm that has wreaked holiday travel chaos and spawned fears many people won't get home for Christmas.
More than 48 hours after the last heavy snowfall, English authorities continued to struggle to get rid of buildups of snow and ice. The continent's worst bottleneck was London's Heathrow Airport, where thousands of travelers were stranded overnight as flight cancellations increased even as other major European airports resumed normal operations after several days of weather delays.
London Mayor Boris Johnson summed up the exasperation as Britain suffered another day of travel setbacks.
"It can't be beyond the wit of man surely to find the shovels, the diggers, the snowplows or whatever it takes to clear the snow out from under the planes, to get the planes moving and to have more than one runway going," he said as British Airways canceled its Monday short-haul schedule from Heathrow.
Airport operator BAA announced that flights would be greatly reduced at Heathrow until at least 6 a.m. (0600 GMT, 1 a.m. EST) Wednesday, with only a maximum one-third of its scheduled flights allowed to operate.
"Passengers should anticipate further delays and cancellations in the following days and potentially beyond Christmas Day," BAA said in a statement.
It advised passengers to postpone their trips if possible. BAA said the mandated flight restrictions should provide airlines with more "clarity" for planning purposes. The government has allowed nighttime operations to help clear the backlog, BAA said.
BAA said a five-inch snowfall in one hour Saturday left Heathrow blanketed in snow, and subsequent swings in temperature led to an extensive ice buildup around aircraft parked on the ground. BAA said "every available" staff member and several hundred additional contractors are trying to get the airport moving again.
Air traffic control agency Eurocontrol said Monday on its website that the situation at Heathrow had become "chaotic."
Embarrassed British officials promised an inquiry into the poor performance of the transport network, with Transport Secretary Philip Hammond planning to address Parliament about the failures, which included major delays on the Eurostar rail service linking England to France and Belgium.
At Heathrow's sprawling Terminal 5, tired and disgruntled passengers faced lengthy waits without much information.
American Suzie Devoe, 20, was one of many who had spent two nights sleeping on the airport floor in a bid to get home for the holidays. She was desperately trying to rearrange a flight so she could get back to Washington to spend Christmas with her family.
"The whole situation has been a complete nightmare," the Bristol University student said. "I just want to get home, I want to be with my family. But I'm being held in a horrible limbo."
Hundreds of passengers camped overnight in Heathrow terminal buildings after services were canceled or delayed.
The situation worsened Monday after at Terminal 3 when some people holding boarding passes for flights were not even let into the terminal building because it was overcrowded.
Eurostar passengers were also severely affected.
At London's St. Pancras station, frustrated travelers hoping to travel to France and Belgium by train stood in a line that wound through the station, around the outside of the huge building and several hundred yards (meters) down the road.
Many had been there for five hours or more, bundled up in parkas, scarves, gloves and hats against the chill, or clutching cups of tea and coffee from a Salvation Army van that had handed out 2,000 hot drinks since before dawn.
"I have to say they are very goodhearted," said Salvation Army worker Estelle Blake. "I've not seen any nasty comments. They've all been lovely and helping each other out."
People were stoic about the weather, but less forgiving of train operator Eurostar, which broadcast loudspeaker announcements warning people not to travel unless their journey was "absolutely essential." Many said they were getting little other information.
"I think someone is to blame — Eurostar," said Peter Heckmanns, 41, a local government worker trying to get home to Kerkrade in The Netherlands after a weekend in London. "We had some delays because of the weather getting here. Our train was stopped at Ashford and we had to wait on the freezing platform for two hours without a cup of coffee. So we thought, 'The return trip can't be worse.' But it is worse."
Charlie Phillips, who had been trying to get home to his family in the French Alps for three days — first on canceled flights from Gatwick airport, then by train — said no one could be blamed for the weather but that Eurostar failed to keep passengers informed.
"The suspicion is, people know what is happening, and they're not telling us," he said.
The strain was also felt at Brussels Airport, which is facing a shortage of deicing liquid and can't guarantee departures for planes that need deicing until at least midnight Tuesday, the airport said in its Twitter feed.
The airport said that the shortage is due to transportation problems in France, adding that "the weather forecast is not so positive."
In Germany, flight operations were slowed even though Frankfurt airport, the country's biggest, was clear of snow and ice. Officials canceled about 300 flights there, out of about 1,340, because of problems elsewhere in Europe, airport operator Fraport said.
French civil aviation authorities, meanwhile, asked airlines to reduce their flights at the two main Paris airports by 30 percent.
Tempers were on the rise at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport.
Donna Gordon, a stranded Irish traveler, took her complaint directly to French Transport Minister Thierry Mariani who made a trip to the airport to check on passengers.
"We've been here since Saturday at 6 a.m. and our flight keeps saying on time, on time, on time ....," she complained. "I'm standing in the same clothes I've been wearing for three days."
More snow is forecast in some areas of Britain for Monday afternoon, adding to the problems, with British Airways warning of more flight cancellations, particularly in the greater London area, where all airports have been affected.
Winter storms forced British government ministers and bank executives to postpone their meeting on the politically touchy issue of bank bonuses. The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills did not announce a new date but said it hoped the meeting could be rescheduled later this week.
Forecasters have said Britain is experiencing some of the most severe winter weather in a century, with continued freezing temperatures and snowfall accumulations expected Monday afternoon and evening.
Experts said the extreme winter weather may be related to climate change due to global warming. After strong early year blizzards — nicknamed Snowmageddon — paralyzed the U.S. mid-Atlantic and record snowfalls hit Russia and China, the temperature turned to broil.
"The extremes are changed in an extreme fashion," said Greg Holland, director of the earth system laboratory at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in the United States.
For example, even though it sounds counterintuitive, global warming likely played a bit of a role in "Snowmageddon" earlier this year, Holland said. That's because with a warmer climate, there's more moisture in the air, which makes storms including blizzards, more intense, he said.
Airports and British travel industry group ABTA have warned it is almost inevitable that some cancellations and delays will continue through this week and likely snarl those attempting to head away for the holiday season.
British Airways warned passengers not to travel to London's Heathrow airport unless they have a confirmed seat on a flight known to be operating despite the weather problems and the backlog of delays. It urged travelers to consider canceling their flight if possible.
Icy conditions were also hampering travel across Europe, with flights canceled and delayed in multiple countries at the weekend.
In France, Jean Louis Balam, a Dutch passenger who spent the night at Charles de Gaulle airport trying for a second day to get from Paris to Amsterdam, said passengers had to improvise overnight at the airport.
"We went to the airport yesterday evening and we wanted to go to Amsterdam and we waited here about five hours," he told Associated Press Television News. "We had to sleep at the airport because ... hotels were full. "
Blandine Sabadie also found herself sleeping at the airport. She said passengers were escorted to an "improvised" area with portable beds, blankets and warm drinks.
Mariani said on France-Info radio that when a runway is closed for an hour the lost time cannot be reclaimed. "For each hour lost, it is some 70 to 80 flights that you can't recover during the day," he said.
In Germany, flight operations were slowed even though Frankfurt airport, the country's biggest, was clear of snow and ice. Officials canceled almost 400 flights there, out of about 1,340, because of problems elsewhere in Europe, airport operator Fraport said.
In Munich, the country's second-largest airport, 70 flights have been canceled.Comment on this story
While airports were cleared off snow and ice, heavy snowfall overnight led to chaotic road conditions, with massive traffic jams and hundreds of accidents.
Police in North Rhine-Westphalia state counted 1,160 weather-related accidents since midday Sunday that left 70 people injured, 11 of them severely, German news agency DAPD reported.
Jill Lawless in London, Geir Moulson and Juergen Baetz in Berlin, Gabriele Steinhauser in Brussels, Elaine Ganley and Jeff Schaeffer in Paris contributed to this report.