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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Winter Transport Europe's Weakest Link

The BBC is reporting that the European Union has heavily criticized several European airports for lacking plans and proper infrastructure to deal with recent winter weather and thus stranding thousands of travelers.
And, having done some winter traveling in Europe myself, I’m not surprised.
As Americans, I think we have always marveled at the old country(countries) in a fairy tale-like way; thinking of the history in London, the glamour of Paris, the beer of Munich (or maybe that last one is just me). And we hear all about the cheap, efficient mass transportation that America is obviously lacking.
Maybe so, but I don’t think you’d see half the flights cancelled and thousands of passengers stranded at JFK four days after a few inches of the white stuff hit the ground. And you certainly wouldn’t see that chaos at O’Hare in the Windy City.
One scene in my memory comes to mind as I’m writing about this: I was 21-years-old and doing a study abroad program in London. I was on my way back to my host family’s home in Muswell Hill, a northern suburb of London on the Piccadilly Line of the Underground. The commute from central London to my stop at either Wood Green or Bounds Green (depending on how I was feeling that day and what bus I wanted to take from the tube stop) took about 40 minutes and sometimes longer depending on a lot of train factors. That February day it was very cold and sometime in between the time I got on the subway train and got off it started snowing – a very rare occasion in this part of the world in 2004, when I was there.
I was walking up the escalator with friends to exit and there was a sign near the doorway that said: Caution. It’s a Blizzard Out There. It was written in blue marker on a dry erase board that was usually used for similar important announcements. Having grown up in the Capital District and spent my college years in the frozen tundra of New York’s North Country, I found that my idea of “blizzard” differed drastically from whoever wrote that message.
We walked outside and there was barely a dusting on the ground.
Overall, I really have no qualms with their mass transportation from my four-month stay but it’s been made clear now that Great Britain and the rest of crowned heads of Europe need to winterize their international transportation.
Changes in weather – dare I say, some kind of side effect of Global Warming – may have something to do with this since, from my understanding, snow is usually rare in the London metro area. But, I have not done enough research on that aspect of this topic to say anything definitive.
For anyone planning to go to Europe for the holidays, please take note: Heathrow has cancelled more than half of its flights until Wednesday, Frankfurt cancelled 300 flights today after overnight snow, there are reported disruptions at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports after weekend cancellations, some cancellations in the Netherlands’ Schiphol, and Brussels in Belgium has also been affected, according to the BBC.
(Maybe that is why I got a Travelzoo deal emailed me to today about nonstop flights from NYC to Paris starting at under $300 from January to early April. The promotion also said the price of nonstop flights to Milan and Brussels also dropped to below $300, including taxes. Best availability for this was with Tuesday and Wednesday departures. Click the link to search on : )
Looking domestically, our national capital could use a little transportation winterization too. In recent weeks, from a similar sprinkling of snow there was absolute chaos on the roadways and the mass transits in D.C., from what I’ve seen on news reports and from what friends and family have told me.
No country is perfect. With the holidays and people trying to get home and other places, it’s just an awful time to start re-evaluating your transportation program.


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