Freeze brings chaos to Christmas travel plans

Christmas travel plans have been left in tatters for many Britons as some of the worst winter weather for a century left thousands of airport passengers stranded, roads caked in black ice, and the Government accused of "false economy" for cutting budgets needed to keep the country moving.

Britons stranded at the UK's largest airport face a third day on the ground today amid warnings of further flight cancellations and yet more heavy snow.

Hundreds of passengers have been camping out at terminals around the country after planes were grounded by some of the most severe winter weather in a century, with forecasters warning of further snowfalls of up to 20cm today and continued sub-zero temperatures.

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Meanwhile, motoring organisations are warning of "potentially fatal" conditions on the roads as commuters struggle back to work with questions over rail services along the East Coast, which were hit by severe delays and cancellations yesterday.

After shutting on Saturday, forcing hundreds to sleep in its terminals, Heathrow said it would not be letting any flights land on its runway yesterday, with only a "handful" of departures taking place.

Gatwick Airport reopened after planes were grounded for much of the previous day but chaos was expected to continue with officials advising passengers to check with their airline before travelling, as were flight customers at Yorkshire airports.

Although snow and ice are causing problems in many parts of Europe, Shadow Chancellor Alan Johnson said Britain had been especially unprepared because of spending cuts.

He added: "People believe the Government has left them to it: 'Get a shovel or stay at home.' Governing is about more than that when you hit a crisis. It's a false economy, when budgets are squeezed, to cut back on salt supplies, because you damage the economy."

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond has denied complacency, stressing the UK is not like Russia and Scandinavia, where severe winters are normal.

But he will ask the Government's chief scientific adviser to assess whether the UK will be subjected to more bouts of extreme weather so Ministers can take a view on the investment needed to deal with it.

Meanwhile, bookmakers are reporting record bets on a white Christmas with more than staked 110,000 in less than 48 hours on snow falling on December 25, according to Ladbrokes.