22 Dec 2010

Forecasters say snow and ice should clear by Christmas

The Met Office predicts it will be “mainly dry” from Christmas Eve, as ferry companies tell Channel 4 News they have seen five times as many passengers as normal for this time of year.

Pressure remained on transport operators today to get the Christmas getaway back on track after days of disruption caused by the snow. Heathrow airport’s second runway reopened last night, and the airport said it planned to run around two-thirds of flights today, but travellers were warned not to expect services to return to normal straight away.

BAA Chief Executive Colin Matthews said that passengers should still check their flight with the operator before they travelled to the airport: “It is good news to see aircraft taking off and landing from two runways but it’s really important that passengers understand that doesn’t mean the full schedule is going to be restored instantly,” he said.

“It is not just two runways we need – we need every other link in the chain to be fully up to speed and it’s going to take some time to do that.”

Snow queues (Getty images)

Meanwhile, there were calls for Mr Matthews to forego his six figure bonus, after reports he was paid more than £1 million this year. Channel 4 News revealed yesterday that is double the amount Heathrow spent on snow defence equipment. Read more here.

David Cameron expressed his “frustration” at the length of disruption at Heathrow, while airlines accused BAA of not having stocked up on enough de-icer.

Wolfgang Prock-Schauer, chief executive of airline BMI, said the situation was “completely unacceptable.”

“BAA was not prepared,” he said. “It did not have enough de-icing fluid. The Prime Minister has stepped in and de-icing fluid has been released from other sources.

We need every other link in the chain to be fully up to speed and it’s going to take some time to do that, BAA Chief Executive

“This should have been possible without this kind of intervention.”

The EU Commission also criticised the air travel disruption across Europe and urged airports to “get serious” about planning for bad weather.

Rail travellers were also affected by the weather conditions. East Coast trains were running an amended service after trains were suspended yesterday and hundreds of people evacuated when overhead power lines were damaged in Huntingdon, near Peterborough. Managing Director of the rail operator, Karen Boswell, said: “We appreciate that many people are travelling home for Christmas over the next few days and our staff are working as hard as possible to ensure our passengers arrive at their final destination with minimal disruption.”

Eurostar said it was operating a “near-normal” service after days of disruption and massive queues at St Pancras. It warned that passengers should only go to the station if they had a valid ticket for travel today.

Natalie Hardy at P&O Ferries told Channel 4 News they have taken around 10,000 foot passengers over the past three days, and that they were taking around 200 to 250 people on each boat. She said this was about five times the normal amount, as Christmas tended to be a quiet time of year for people travelling without a car. She said that many Eurostar passengers were in “the vicinity”, so put the increase down to problems experienced by the international train operator.