Airline passengers queue up beside rows of luggage at Heathrow airports Terminal 3 on Monday. (AFP)
Paris, Dec. 20: After two days of snowy disruption left airlines operating at vastly reduced capacity, the region was slammed by new winter storms today, cancelling or delaying thousands of flights with repercussions felt by travellers across the globe.
The chaos caused by the onslaught of snow and slush that have hit western Europe in recent days could hardly have come at a worse time for holiday travellers, and European authorities urged all those who could possibly put off or cancel their travel plans to do so. Airlines warned passengers to check their flight-status before leaving for the airport.
The outlook is not reassuring: national weather agencies warned that more icy weather was possible for tomorrow and beyond.
Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, appeared frustrated that the winter weather could completely snarl air travel through Heathrow, where only a handful of flights were landing and taking off today, according to a spokeswoman.
For its part, Heathrow said the problem had been compounded since Saturday by swings in temperature, to the extent that ice built up around the aircraft parked on the ground.
The chaos in western Europe was causing disruptions worldwide. American carriers warned of problems on transatlantic routes, with Delta Airlines saying passengers to or from Amsterdam, London, Frankfurt and Paris should check their flight status before leaving home.
Cathay Pacific, based in Hong Kong, said its London flights were subject to further confirmation. In Sydney, the Australian carrier Qantas said a number of flights to and from London had been cancelled or delayed.
In Germany, Frankfurt Airport warned passengers to contact their airlines and to check traffic reports.
This afternoon, Heathrow announced that its flying schedule would be reduced until 6am tomorrow, with a maximum of one-third of flights likely to operate during the period. Passengers, the airport said, should anticipate further delays and cancellations in the following days and potentially beyond Christmas Day.
For Jane Wiest, 45, the trouble began on Friday night. She, her husband and their four children boarded a British Airways flight at Heathrow, bound for Miami. Unknown to them, they were not going anywhere, although they did remain on the plane for six hours.
It was a comedy of errors, a weary Wiest said today in a telephone interview from Heathrow, where hope was triumphing over experience. First they needed to de-ice the plane, but there was a queue for the machine, and then they ran out of de-icer. And then the crews time came to its limits, and there was no backup crew.
The family rebooked for Monday. A text message this morning assured them that their new flight was on time. When they got back to the airport, having jettisoned all their luggage in favour of carry-on bags, they learned the flight had been cancelled, along with most domestic flights.
There are mattresses and blankets and pillows all over the place, Wiest said of the Terminal 5 departure lounge. Theres very little food left. There are huge queues to get a muffin, and then when you get to the front of the queue, there are no muffins left.
As she spoke, she was waiting at a departure gate with a crowd of cross travellers, all hoping to get on the next flight to New York. It started boarding, but she was not holding her breath, she said.