WINTER WONDERLAND SEES TRAVELLERS UNSMILING IN EUROPE
by FOX News Radio's Alastair Wanklyn
Some passengers spent three nights sleeping on the airport floor.
"It's pathetic. You would think this is a Third World country," 29-year-old Janice Phillips from Minneapolis told the Associated Press.
The snow in London was measly by American standards, just five inches or so. But workers took a full five days to plough it from aircraft stands at Heathrow, usually Europe's busiest airport.
Heathrow operating firm BAA predicts a profit this year of over 1.5 billion dollars. If executives were to ask for advice on how to spend it additional shovels might figure into their plans.
There was frustration with Europe's airlines too. "The place you can check up here is closed," said Jim Jameson from Australia, trying to fly to Germany. "There's just a lack of information."
Travellers were affected across Britain, France and Germany. It was reminiscent of volcano ash alert earlier this year, when twitchy air-safety inspectors ordered a flight freeze that was later deemed to be unnecessarily tight.
This week, as a result, holiday traffic was chaotic on the railroads too. Passengers stood in an icy queue for up to eight hours awaiting a seat on the Eurostar train, which links London with Brussels and Paris.
"I'm playing in church for Christmas," said a young woman musician from Holland, surprised at being told to quit the station and queue outside. "Actually I came quite unprepared. I didn't realize the situation was this bad."
It was so bad that the Salvation Army martialled volunteers more used to helping London's homeless to distribute soup to passengers abandoned by the rail company.
Europe's central authorities snapped at those responsible, singling out airport operators. "It is unacceptable and should not happen again," said Siim Kallas, the European Commission's transport policy chief.
Britain's government acknowledged widespread failure. "The people stuck there are having an incredibly difficult time, especially just before Christmas," said Prime Minister David Cameron. "Everything must be done to either get them on holiday or get them home safely."
He proposed sending soldiers to help clear the snow at Heathrow. But by the time he offered that the snow had begun to melt. And air travel was just beginning to sort itself out again.