European Air and Train Travel Update – Friday 3 December

Heathrow still open, Gatwick Airport reopens, Gatwick Express suspended, Eurostar on reduced service and Swiss airports reopen after very heavy snow

Switzerland’s main airports have reopened after closures due to heavy snowfall, flights have been cancelled in France and Germany and Eurostar has had to cancel half its services as freezing conditions continue to bring many parts of Europe to a virtual standstill.

While temperatures in parts of Scotland are positively Arctic, hovering around the -20C mark, the mercury plunged in Poland this week to an icy -26C.

London’s Gatwick airport reopened this morning (Friday) but the airport’s website is still advising passengers to first check with their airline before travelling to the airport and is warning that it may take a few days to catch up on delays due to cancelled flights earlier this week.

Meanwhile the Gatwick Express that runs from Victoria Station in central London is suspended, with updates on www.gatwickexpress.com saying “Service suspended. Please use alternative routes.”

Southern Railway www.southernrailway.com which runs from Victoria and also Clapham in London to Gatwick is still operating but running reduced services due to poor weather and line problems, with snow and ice causing delays on many routes. The freezing conditions will most likely continue for days as the low-pressure front centred over Western Europe moves slowly eastward.

On the ski front, things look a lot sunnier. The Italian, Swiss and French Alps as well as Austria all have plentiful snow making for excellent skiing conditions, with Bulgaria one of the few places in Europe where the ski resorts have not officially opened yet. (Visit www.snow-forecast.com for snow updates all over Europe.)

Heinz Maurer of Meteosuisse, the Swiss national weather service, explains the reason for the heavy snowfall:"We’ve got unusually cold air over large parts of the eastern Atlantic, and where that meets warm air coming for example from the Mediterranean you have a lot of snow.” He predicted that snowfall would ease in central Europe by Thursday.

The French civil aviation authority has been asking airlines to cancel 25% of the flights due to depart from Paris Charles de Gaulle and 10% of the flights out of Paris Orly earlier this week in anticipation of further problems.

Europe’s busiest airport, Heathrow, has had a chance to use its state of the art snow clearing equipment but may not remain immune if snow continues to put pressure on runway clearance. The British Airports Authority BAA has announced that an extra half a million pounds has been invested in new technology and tools at the airport this year, enabling it to run constant checks of runway and taxiway areas and take any necessary action.

Heathrow’s fleet of snow ploughs and de-icing vehicles have been working hard to clear the airfield and a computer system is also being used to ensure that the airport does not exhaust its stock of de-icing fluid.

Colin Wood, airside director at Heathrow, said: ‘As the world’s busiest international airport it’s absolutely vital we are well prepared and our team do an excellent job often in quite severe conditions. While we stayed open last winter, we won’t rest on our laurels and promise that we’ll be ready, waiting and doing everything we can to make every journey better for our passengers.’

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