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Eyes on Heathrow after snow-caused shutdown

LONDON - Managers at Heathrow Airport boasted last month that their snow team was working flat-out to ensure the facility "will once again be prepared for the onset of winter."

Then a few inches of snow fell, and Europe's busiest airport shut down. People slept on floors, or were turned away outside terminals, Christmas travel plans in ruins.

Flights were returning to normal yesterday, but the fallout continued, with Heathrow boss Colin Matthews renouncing his annual bonus as a gesture of contrition.

With passengers still deeply angry and politicians echoing their complaints, the most enduring damage from the snowstorm may be to the reputation of an airport that was already overcrowded, unloved and in need of an upgrade.

Wolfgang Prock-Schauer, chief executive of airline BMI, put the blame squarely on Heathrow's owner, Spanish-owned company BAA.

"BAA was not prepared," he told The Times. "It did not have enough deicing fluid."

Heathrow said the chaos was a result of the airport's lack of spare capacity and unusually harsh weather. Meteorological Office figures show 3 1/2 inches of snow fell Saturday and quickly froze. The airport, which said 5 inches fell, strongly denied running short on deicing fluid.

Heathrow said it was running almost 900 flights, 70 percent of a full service, after finally reopening both runways for the first time since Saturday. Many of the travelers who had slept on terminal floors amid mounds of luggage were finally getting on planes. - AP

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