Transport operators are under severe pressure to get the Christmas getaway back on track after days of disruption caused by the snow.
Heathrow Airport’s second runway reopened on Tuesday night, raising hopes for the thousands of stranded air passengers – many of whom have spent uncomfortable nights in the terminals. It plans to run around two-thirds of flights on Wednesday but travellers were warned not to expect services to return to normal at once.
Forecasters, meanwhile, said a thaw was unlikely in the coming days as cold weather continued.
Prime Minister David Cameron expressed his “frustration” at the length of the disruption at Heathrow, while airlines accused BAA of failing to have enough de-icer to cope with the situation.
Speaking at a Downing Street news conference, Mr Cameron said: “If it’s 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.”
Wolfgang Prock-Schauer, chief executive of airline BMI, told The Times the Heathrow situation was “completely unacceptable”. He said: “BAA was not prepared. It did not have enough de-icing fluid.”
The EU Commission also slammed Europe’s air travel disruption as unacceptable and urged airports to “get serious” about better planning for bad weather.
BAA chief executive Colin Matthews warned people not to expect normal services immediately and urged them to check before going to the airport. He also pledged to investigate how the situation was dealt with and why it took so long to clear snow from aircraft – but only after the “short-term” aim of getting passengers to where they needed to be had been achieved.
Rail travellers have also been affected. The East Coast line, one of the country’s main railway arteries, is returning to a “near normal” service after being suspended on Tuesday after hundreds of people were evacuated from stricken trains following damage to overhead power lines at Huntingdon, near Peterborough.
Andy Ratcliffe, forecaster at MeteoGroup, the Press Association’s weather division, said Heathrow and Gatwick could expect temperatures of 1-2C and a possibility of heavy snow early on in Wales, East Anglia and the Midlands.