Heathrow races to clear Christmas backlog

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By Robin Millard (AFP) – 2 hours ago

LONDON — The race is on at snowbound airports to clear the backlog of stranded passengers in time for Christmas as weather conditions ease slightly.

Around 1,000 passengers spent the night at London Heathrow, the world’s busiest international passenger airport.

“We’re running 70 percent of our normal planned schedule, which accounts for around 900 flights, and we’re comfortable that we’ll be able to remove the rest of the snow from the airfield,” a Heathrow spokeswoman told AFP.

“Both runways are open and operating,” she said, adding that a total of 30,000 tonnes of snow had been shifted from the apron.

Flights left Heathrow through the night, breaking the normal curfew.

The spokeswoman said the airport was “absolutely” aiming to get everyone away in time for Christmas.

Colin Matthews, the head of Heathrow’s operator BAA, said he would not take his bonus for 2010 after union chiefs said accepting the payment would be an “absolute slap in the face” to stranded passengers.

London Mayor Boris Johnson added: “I really hope BAA is learning some very serious lessons; they have got to be ready next time.”

Flights got going again at Dublin Airport after the authorities cleared ice and more than 15 centimetres (six inches) of snow.

The situation was improving on the high-speed passenger trains linking London with Paris and Brussels.

Eurostar was planning to run a “near normal service” on Wednesday, with nine trains out of 52 cancelled.

Meanwhile, some 2,000 pagans, druids and revellers celebrated the winter solstice at the Stonehenge monument in Wiltshire by having a snowball fight at sunrise.