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Thousands of travellers are facing delays after heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures caused travel chaos in parts of northern Europe and the United Kingdom.

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Snow and ice buildup forced several European airports to cancel flights over the weekend, creating a backlog of stranded travellers.

After major disruptions Saturday and Sunday, London's Heathrow Airport was open Monday, but airport officials said there would be limited arrivals and departures.

Airports in Paris, Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Brussels are also dealing with weather-related delays, prompting airport officials to advise travellers to check with airlines before heading to the airport.

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Airline passengers sleep in Terminal 5 at London's Heathrow Airport on Sunday. Cold, snowy weather has caused widespread flight delays and cancellations across northern Europe. ((Luke MacGregor/Reuters) )

"We expect further cancellations and delays in the coming days, as airlines move diverted aircraft and crew back to their normal positions and we continue to manage the impacts of the poor weather," Heathrow officials said in a statement posted online.

British Airways said all short-haul flights from Heathrow would be cancelled Monday. 

Many other airlines, including Air Canada, were forced to delay or cancel flights out of the busy hub.

Canadian woes

European weather is delaying flights in VancouverMontreal and Toronto.

Air Canada said it was only able to operate one-third of its normal schedule through Heathrow with a maximum of six takeoffs and landings allowed Monday.

It said five flights would operate Monday from Heathrow to Canadian airports — two to Toronto and one each to Halifax, Calgary and Vancouver. The airline advised Europe-bound travellers to check its website for flight status before leaving for the airport.

"It's a very big mess," CBC's Ann MacMillan said Monday.

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"Two of the five terminals at Heathrow are so full of people whose flights have been cancelled that its owners have taken the highly unusual step of closing them to anyone who does not have a ticket for a flight that is taking off today."

MacMillan said officials are making an effort to get long-haul flights — including flights to Canada — off the ground. She said many people are criticizing the slow cleanup effort and the continued delays at Heathrow.

The breakdown in the air and road system prompted Transport Secretary Philip Hammond to promise an inquiry into the way passengers were treated after their flights were cancelled.

Heathrow said "every available member of staff and several hundred additional contractors" were working to clear snow and de-ice planes.

STRANDED TRAVELLER

Rebecca Pate, a Canadian stranded in London, said she was stuck on a parked plane for seven hours Saturday before airline officials said the flight was cancelled.

"It was a nightmare," she said. "But considering what was going on, people were in pretty high spirits … there wasn't any belligerent behaviour towards the crew or anything like that."

Pate, who is trying to get to Halifax for Christmas, went back to the airport Sunday to try to find out about flights.

"It was even worse," she said. "There was no one on staff, the desks were empty."

She said she still hopes to get home for the holidays, but it's looking "extremely unlikely" that she'll get home before Christmas.

But London Mayor Boris Johnson summed up the exasperation as Britain suffered another day of travel setbacks.

"It can't be beyond the wit of man surely to find the shovels, the diggers, the snowplows or whatever it takes to clear the snow out from under the planes, to get the planes moving and to have more than one runway going," he said.

In Paris, heavy snowfall caused major disruptions at Charles de Gaulle airport and Paris-Orly, officials said.

In Germany, flight operations were slowed even though Frankfurt airport, the country's biggest, was clear of snow and ice.

Officials on Monday cancelled about 300 flights out of a planned 1,340 because of problems elsewhere in Europe, airport operator Fraport said.

Frankfurt airport spokesman Robert Payne said officials were trying to keep passengers comfortable as they wait for flights to get back on track.

"We have set up sleeping cots in the terminals for the overnight situation, we are distributing free snacks and drinks, and we have entertainment set up in the terminals," Payne said.

The strain was also felt at Brussels Airport, which is facing a shortage of de-icing liquid and can't guarantee departures for planes that need de-icing until at least midnight Tuesday, the airport said Monday in its Twitter feed.

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Rail passengers queue for Eurostar trains outside St. Pancras Station in London on Monday. ((Akira Suemori/Associated Press))

The airport said that the shortage is due to transportation problems in France, adding that "the weather forecast is not so positive."

The winter weather was also slowing traffic and causing delays on rail service in parts of the U.K. and Europe.

Eurostar reported its trains linking England to France and Belgium were severely delayed or cancelled, and urged travellers to cancel or postpone their trips if possible.

CBC meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe said, "Although the heavy snow has ended for most across the U.K. and Europe, the cold conditions will remain into next week with long-range models indicating another round of snow and winds for Christmas Day across the U.K."

With files from The Associated Press, the Canadian Press