LONDON — The snow was melting off London's streets, but Heathrow Airport told infuriated passengers it won't restore full service until Thursday — five days after a 5-inch snowfall turned hundreds of thousands of holiday plans into a nightmare of canceled flights and painful nights sleeping on terminal floors.
Travelers' anger boiled over into politics as British Prime Minister David Cameron offered to put troops on snow-clearing duty and Europe's top transport official threatened tougher regulation of airports unable to cope with wintry weather.
"It's pathetic — you would think this is a Third World country," said 29-year-old Janice Phillips, who was trying to get back to Minneapolis. She sat next to her sleeping boyfriend, his head propped against a backpack.
"It's not even snowing!" said 19-year-old Candie Sparks, who was trying to get back to Santa Fe, N.M. "It's crazy."
Days after a driving snowfall that ended Saturday after dumping 5 inches in an hour, the terminals at Heathrow were clogged Tuesday with passengers desperately looking at computer screens to see if they would be able to get to their destinations. So many people were sprawled on the floor that it was difficult to walk.
Transportation experts said that after many years without heavy snowfall, underinvestment has left Heathrow and dozens of other airports across Britain and Ireland without enough equipment or personnel to cope with big storms.
Aviation consultant Chris Yates said airport operators in Helsinki, Stockholm and other snowy climes have the equipment and manpower to clear runways within 30 minutes and to remove ice and snow from aircraft stands quickly, while Heathrow lags far behind.
This was evident in the days after Saturday's snowstorm, when airports in Frankfurt, Prague, Amsterdam and other major cities in mainland Europe bounced back more quickly than Heathrow, where the ice hardened.
London's Gatwick was hit by less snow and recovered faster than the larger Heathrow. Its runway reopened and flights were operating Tuesday night.
Eurostar, the high-speed train that connects to mainland Europe through the Channel Tunnel, also could not cope, advising passengers throughout the day to cancel and stay home. Outside London's Eurostar terminal, the line of travelers waiting for trains snaked down the street. By evening, Eurostar said it expected to operate a nearly normal schedule today.