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Many travelers in Europe cancel Christmas

Heathrow closes its doors; travelers demand answers; Madonna and entourage get red carpet treatment.

Heathrow
Airline passengers queue to enter Heathrow airport's Terminal 3, west of London, on Dec. 20, 2010. The boss of British airports operator BAA apologized Monday for chaos at London Heathrow as freezing weather threatened to ruin Christmas plans for 'many thousands' of people. (Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images)

[Editor's note: The chief executive of U.K. airports operator BAA has said he will give up his bonus for the current year in the face of widespread criticism of his company's performance during the weather-related holiday period chaos. BAA chief Colin Matthews has been feeling the heat for his company's failure to restore promptly operations at Heathrow Airport after snow fell at the weekend.]

Snow, ice and plunging temperatures in northern Europe have prolonged the Christmas traveler chaos.

Road, rail and air travel was affected, while snow and ice grounded the vast majority of flights in and out of Britain on Sunday, with Heathrow the worst-affected airport.

Travelers were on Monday being turned away from Heathrow terminals 1 and 3 after officials decided they could no longer accept any more people within the buildings.

Following several days of chaos at Europe's busiest airport, with stranded passengers complaining they were given little or no information, the transport secretary, Philip Hammond, said he would ask airports operator BAA for an explanation.

Jean MacKenzie, GlobalPost's Kabul correspondent, was caught up in the chaos and left confounded as to why.

She wrote: "I am trying to make my way home, but am stuck in London [now for the third day].

"I am running around trying to buy shampoo, etc. "They have no idea where the luggage is] ... There is about two inches of snow on the ground... really ...and the whole airport was shut. It is scandalous.

"I will NEVER fly through London in the winter again. I'm trying to get to Frankfurt, and out that way. At least Lufthansa may help rebook if the flight is cancelled. BA just said 'you're on your own.'"

In a later dispatch, she added: "The amount of snow on the ground would not have made a Bostonian blink. A Muscovite, witnessing the weather conditions that prevailed Saturday at London’s Heathrow Airport, would have rejoiced at the onset of spring. But the two to four inches of white stuff falling on one of the world’s great capitals was enough to shut down an airport, strand tens of thousands of passengers, and send countless bags into the same nether world that claims odd socks."

And: "I was supposed to be in Texas right about now, having spent a day with friends in Atlanta along the way. Instead, I have passed what seems like a year in queues, fought gamely with airline officials, and had a mini-nervous breakdown. All to no avail — I still have no idea how long I’ll be in London — a city I normally love, if I have chosen to be there."

Hundreds of thousands of people were left stranded at Heathrow over the weekend, with many sleeping at the airport. British Airways was advising travelers to check flight status at www.ba2go.com but the website was unresponsive.

Paris' Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport is due to cancel 30 percent of flights Monday. Frankfurt airport in Germany has called off 325 flights out of a scheduled 1,300 to 1,400, according to officials, largely due to flight disruptions at other airports. 

BA warned that Heathrow would be operating as "significantly reduced capacity for several days" —threatening to leave more than 100,000 Britons stranded overseas for Christmas.

On Saturday, frigid temperatures and extreme conditions pummeled Europe. Blizzard conditions From Northern Ireland to Bulgaria, left airports with heavy delays or shut them entirely. Snow, ice and fog have caused travel chaos ahead of a busy holiday travel week.

Forecasters see no sign of a thaw. Temperatures hit a record low in Northern Ireland overnight, the Met Office said, with temperatures of 0 degrees (-18 degrees Celsius), recorded in Castlederg, County Tyrone.

Below-normal temperatures are expected to continue in northern Europe for part of this week. The BBC writes about how airports keep going in poor weather.

Meantime, Madonna angered plane passengers in Britain over the weekend after she was allowed off a diverted aircraft two hours before other travellers, according to a U.K. report.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/france/101220/snow-travel-madonna-europe-heathrow-flights