Hundreds of travellers were on Sunday stranded at British airports as many flights were cancelled or delayed because of heavy snowfall that has disrupted normal life across Europe over the past week.

Train and tube services were thrown out of gear and there were reports of cars and lorries stuck on snow-bound roads and motorways. Many motorists were forced to spend the night in their cars.

At Heathrow airport, a third of the flights were cancelled amid fears of more disruption ahead. Cancellations and delays were also reported at Gatwick, Manchester, Birmingham and Stansted airports amid frantic efforts to clear the snow. Passengers were advised to check with their airlines before going to airports.

“We deeply regret any disruption caused to passengers by the cold weather,” said Heathrow’s chief operating officer Normand Boivin as passengers complained of chaotic conditions.

"It was chaos at Heathrow. No-one seemed to know what was going on," one woman passenger told the BBC complaining that her husband's plane for Singapore sat on the tarmac for five hours on Saturday night, before the flight was cancelled and he returned home.

Tempers ran high. One passenger said he boarded a plane at Heathrow at 8 pm on Saturday and was still stuck on the tarmac at 2.30 am on Sunday. “Passengers are getting very annoyed with the staff, there's no aircon, so it's hot, stuffy, smelly,” he told Sky News.

A spokesman of Birmingham airport, closed for several hours, said ‘a clean-up operation is in full swing’. Many inter-city trains were cancelled or curtailed while the London Underground struggled despite official claims that it was ‘open for business’.

Normal life across much of Europe was disrupted. Northern and Eastern Europe were the worst-affected with temperatures plunging to new lows and affecting vital gas and electricity supplies. More than 200 people were reported to have died since the ‘big chill’ hit the continent last week.

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