Winter Weather Continues to Foil Travel Plans in Europe
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GWEN IFILL: Now: the winter travel snarl.
Hundreds of thousands of airline passengers around the world are stuck in a fourth day of busted flight schedules because of snow removal and de-icing problems at European airports, particularly hard-hit, Heathrow outside London.
Carl Dinnen of Independent Television News has this report.
CARL DINNEN: Some jobs are best left to those who know what they’re doing. And BAA didn’t take up the government’s offer of military help with their clear-up today.
In any event, they seemed, at long last, to be winning the battle against the elements. They are not yet winning the battle to get everyone airborne, however. Amongst the people at Heathrow today was the transport secretary.
The people stuck in the terminals behind you will want to hear that you gave BAA a good talking-to today. Did you?
PHILIP HAMMOND, British transport secretary: Well, BAA management is well aware of our views that what has happened here is completely unacceptable, but we have agreed that we will have this discussion after the airport has been got working back to normal again. The key issue for both of us now is to make sure that we get as many people as possible away before Christmas.
CARL DINNEN: As he stepped away from our interview, he was accosted by Michelle Philips, whose family are stuck at the airport.
MICHELLE PHILIPS, traveler: Yesterday from Northampton trying to get to (INAUDIBLE) to see nothing. Finally got off, but still sitting on the runway. I mean, I appreciate there is these troubles, but they’re…
PHILIP HAMMOND: … this is over, we are going to have to have a serious inquest about what’s happened and how the airport has performed.
CARL DINNEN: Afterwards, I asked Michelle if she thought the government was on top of things.
MICHELLE PHILIPS: No, I don’t. I don’t. They should have told us that we can’t go anywhere.
CARL DINNEN: Her unhappiness is shared in Downing Street.
DAVID CAMERON, British prime minister: Even BAA’s harshest critics have conceded that,given the amount of snow that has fallen, extensive disruption is understandable.
But it is understandable that Heathrow had to close briefly. I’m frustrated, on behalf of all those affected, that it’s taking so long for the situation to improve.
CARL DINNEN: Well, it’s mid-afternoon, and here at Heathrow, a wet, sleety kind of snow has just started falling. BAA haven’t said whether that will affect the clear-up of their second runway. But it will hardly help the mood of their passengers, especially those at terminal three, who are being kept outside the terminal.
There, they had to queue just to get into the departure hall, BAA supplying blankets, the Salvation Army hot drinks, and some people waiting in tents. Some had been here since the weekend, when things were worse.
WOMAN: What’s around here today was the people in their purple and their fluorescent yellow. It’s so not representative of anything that happened on Saturday and Sunday. It was — honestly, the footage from Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans is what that was reminiscent of.
CARL DINNEN: Around the globe, many more people are trying to get back here. This was Bangkok.
MAN: Well, you know, it’s a long, tedious process. And nobody knows what’s going on. I’m not sure what other airlines are telling people, but certainly we’re tired. There’s no information. No one seems to know. You get told different things every five minutes.
MAN: All day, we have been on the Internet. We have been on the — anything, TV, everything. No sign. We have turned up here to see what’s the score. And, as you can see, it’s mad.
CARL DINNEN: Back at Heathrow, the hard work paid off. Just before 5:00, they got the second runway open. BAA say that, about 10:00 p.m., they should have a better idea of what tomorrow’s flight schedules will look like. Further ahead, they will have to answer difficult questions about whether they’re spending enough money on digging themselves out of the snow.