By Joe Brancatelli
Here's the latest news since our newsletter was published on Friday morning. I will update this information as required.

10am ET 12/22/10, WEDNESDAY

The Europe travel situation finally seems to be easing a bit. All airports in Europe are now open and operating at various levels of capacity.

There are long delays and some cancellations at Dublin, Vienna, Brussels and Berlin/Tegel. Paris airports are running with delays and about 15 percent of scheduled flights have been cancelled. Frankfurt seems to have cleared a lot of its backlog from previous days and is running at near-normal levels today.

Which leaves London/Heathrow. The hapless, helpless and apparently hopeless BAA is still treating last week's snow and ice as if it is toxic material. Both runways are now open, but the airport itself is still running around half-capacity. And the continuing cancellations only worsen a situation where tens of thousands are queued up and waiting for reaccommodation flights.

The good news, at least from the U.S. traveler's perspective, is that long-haul service seems to be getting priority. Most flights between the United States and Britain are now running. However, if you had a scheduled connecting flight over Heathrow, lots of luck. As several JoeSentMe members have found out, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and the U.S. carriers can get you into Heathrow, but there's not much chance connecting service is running. British Airways, by far the largest carrier at Heathrow, has now extended its free reaccommodation period until December 31.

Some other observations:
+ Stat wizards say about 15 percent of Europe flights have been cancelled since Saturday.
+ The Eurostar service between London and continental Europe seems to have cleared its backlog. Most trains are now running, albeit with delays.
+ European Community officials are appalled that Europe's airports have done a House of Flowers. (You know, I Never Has Seen Snow.) EC officials say that "minimum operating standards" may have to be imposed. In other words, look for regulations in the near future that will require airports to have appropriate stocks of de-icing fluid and winter-travel gear on hand.

Finally, two observations: Yesterday, when lines were long at Frankfurt, airport officials dispatched people dressed as angels and clowns to entertain children at the terminals. By contrast, at Heathrow, there were politicians (including Transport Minister Philip Hammond) speechifying for the cameras.

7am ET 12/22/10, WEDNESDAY

A thought about those thousands of apparently abandoned travelers sleeping in and camping out on the floors of Heathrow's terminals. As many people say in another context: Get a room!

Lodgings in central London are mostly empty and room rates are at their annual lows. And since both the London Underground and the Heathrow Express services are running normally, it's quick and easy to get into central London and sleep in a real bed rather than on a Heathrow floor. One example: The Hilton Hyde Park, located just a few steps from the Paddington terminus of the Heathrow Express, is selling rooms for as little as 60 pounds tonight. (If you don't know Heathrow and London geography, hotels near Paddington Station are no further away in actual transit time than the Bath Road "airport hotels," which require a 20-minute shuttle-bus ride.)

It is not my job to tell anyone how to or if they should spend their money. And it does not mitigate the responsibility of the airlines and Heathrow Airport to help in this (now) mostly man-made crisis. But at what point do travelers take responsibility for their own conditions? If you're told you won't be able to fly for several days, and you can afford to take a holiday in the first place, why are you continuing to camp out on an airport floor when good accommodations are just a quick train ride away?

10:45am ET 12/21/10, TUESDAY

I know some of you are still stranded there and others have told me you have plans to travel later this week, thanks to those insanely low holiday business-class fares.

In short, the situation is not good, the weather continues to be extremely cold and snowy and most airports are struggling.

Even the Irish airports, especially Dublin, now have had closures over the last two days because of snowfall in Ireland. British airports continue to struggle with the extreme cold although most have resumed a semblance of predictable operation.

As has become the pattern, however, Heathrow is the most seriously affected. The BAA, which owns Heathrow, has done an atrocious job. It has been extraordinarily cold and slightly snowier than normal in London, but the fact that Heathrow is still operating at under 50 percent of capacity is appalling. The continued cancellations are backing up travel plans even further. In my estimate, some travelers simply won't get on flights until well after Christmas.

Worst, the BAA is doing a version of "nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition." (That's a silly joke as well as a Monty Python reference. The BAA is owned by a Spanish company.) Without enumerating the reasons, there is no excuse for the BAA's incompetence and its claims of insoluble conditions. Other airports handle weather challenges far worse than London is experiencing and those airports do it with far more aplomb and much less disruption. Heathrow's continued inability to cope with almost anything these days raises real questions as to how business travelers can look at LHR as a serious player on the European stage. Heathrow may now be the single worst place in Europe to arrange a connection because it continues to be reliably unreliable, in any season, at any time.

Check with your airline because most have extended their free reaccommodation period until at least Christmas Eve. And I suspect that they'll be adding days. It should be noted, however, that some JoeSentMe members who were waiting for flights from Heathrow yesterday did get out. Some tell me they were able to fly into Heathrow yesterday.

Elsewhere, German airports are operating, but with long delays and many cancellations. French airports are doing somewhat better than over the weekend. Brussels, which had run out of de-icing solvent, has found a new supply and is operating.

Amsterdam has delays but seems to be running. However, an ominous change of language to note: KLM's Web site (http://www.klm.com/travel/nl_nl/apps/arr_dep_app/arrivals_departures.htm) now lists flights as "planned" rather than "scheduled." When someone makes a language change like that, assume they are planning to pull plugs at the first sign of fresh challenges.

Another serious trouble spot: Eurostar train between London/St. Pancras and Paris/Gare du Nord stations. There have been reports of serious overcrowding at both stations, very long delays on the trains and ticket-holding passengers not being given seats even though their trains operated. Things seem better today, but no new passengers are being booked. If you aren't already holding a ticket, you're not going to get one. And if you are holding a ticket, you might not get a train anyway.

Bottom line: If you can avoid travel to Europe, do it. If you can't, consider flying far to the north (Copenhagen and Helsinki are doing fine) or the south (Rome is doing okay, albeit with some cancellations and delays).

Looking into next week, well, you can't. It depends on the weather and early forecasts call for more snow and much colder-than-normal temperatures. The backlogs are mounting and I suspect the days between Christmas and New Year are going to be unhappy ones.

11am ET 12/20/10, MONDAY

The news about the travel chaos in Europe is not good.

Heathrow Airport in London (http://www.heathrowairport.com) has just announced that only one in three scheduled flights will operate until 6am local time on Wednesday. And it's snowing again. That means folks who have been reaccommodated on flights scheduled to leave today and tomorrow may be cancelled again. And travelers who thought they'd be fine will find themselves cancelled, too. Given the abject failure of Heathrow's management to get the snow and ice cleared over the weekend, the situation will continue to deteriorate.

If you must travel to London or are trying to get home from London, patience and forbearance are your best tools. Check your carrier's Web pages, Twitter feeds and call centers for options, such as they are. (By the way, apparently the Heathrow Express is now free as a way to shuttle people from Heathrow to central London, where there are plenty of available guestrooms.)

If you don't have to travel to or from London this week or are scheduled to use Heathrow as a transit hub, I urge you to reconsider your options. While the situation is difficult elsewhere, too, Heathrow is having the worst time. Look at your options. The management of Heathrow has failed utterly (again!) and there is going to be political, social and financial hell to pay later. Right now, though, you should avoid London at all costs.

Elsewhere in Europe so far today:
+ Paris airports continue to struggle with long delays and some airport closures.
+ German airports and other facilities in Central Europe are dealing with long delays and some cancellations.
+ There continues to be a large number of cancellations and delays in Brussels and Amsterdam. Brussels Airport authorities have arranged for buses to move travelers.
+ The Eurostar between London and Paris is basically closed for new reservations. If you don't have a ticket, you're not going to be able to buy one. If you have a ticket, expect delays of at least two hours.

Another note: Once again I urge you to check with your airline to determine the status of your aircraft before you travel to the airport. Don't go just because the airline says that your flight is scheduled. Make sure to ask where the aircraft scheduled to handle your flight is currently located. Many aircraft are out of position. Moreover, with such long delays, crew shortages will be problematic as pilots and flight attendants "time out" before they can operate your flight.

And as I said on Saturday in my first alert, the Twitter feed from Eurocontrol, the pan-European air-traffic control system, has been brilliant as an informational source. You could do worse than starting at http://www.twitter.com/eurocontrol

Finally, what may be the worst tragedy of all: Lady Gaga's concert in Paris was cancelled because her equipment didn't arrive. Quel dommage!

1pm ET 12/19/10, SUNDAY

Travel conditions in Europe are worsening and will certainly impact your travel in the days to come.

If you're on the road now, trying to get to Europe or home from Europe, you know how difficult your situation is. Many airports have closed and operating flights are delayed upwards of six hours.

Airlines have strained to handle the volume of calls seeking reaccommodation. The most notable failure: Virgin Atlantic. It has simply stopped answering its phones, it was despicably slow in updating its Web site and several JoeSentMe members have told me it is basically impossible to get any help from the airline.

I've attached a list of important informational contacts below, but I also wanted to alert you to a crucial travel reality if your plans include Europe in the next few days:

Travel throughout Europe and to, from and through Europe by air will now be disrupted for days. Planes are out of position and, in some cases, diverted to other destinations around the world. Assuming the weather doesn't worsen, it'll take upwards of a week for airlines to resume normal international operations.

I urge you not to assume your flight to or from Europe will be fine because it's not scheduled until next week. Before heading to any airport, make absolutely sure the flight is going to operate and make sure to ask where the equipment for your flight is coming from. The key is not if your flight is scheduled to go, it's if the plane that will service your flight is actually en route to your airport.

Some other thoughts:
+ If you are scheduled to connect to a Europe-bound flight from another U.S. city, make sure you know your hotel options in that gateway city. If your Europe-bound flight cancels at the last minute, you'll need accommodations. And, as always, don't rely on your airline to help. Book a room first, argue over compensation later.
+ If you are scheduled to fly to Asia, the Middle East or Africa over a European city, try to change your plans. Do anything you can to avoid Europe airports just now.
+ Get a Twitter account and make sure you "follow" the airline you're using. I will have more about this in the weeks to come, but Twitter has emerged as the fastest, most reliable source of data from airlines and airports. They've been dishing up details on Twitter faster than their own Web pages and certainly faster than reaching them by phone.

Finally, here are links to check for further information:
+ The Eurocontrol air-traffic control system is doing wonders on Twitter: http://twitter.com/eurocontrol
+ British Airways, which wiped out virtually all of its schedule yesterday and today, seems to have handled its passengers best since so many fewer of them are stranded in airports. It is updating on the BA home page (http://www.britishairways.com) and Twitter: http://twitter.com/British_Airways
+ Virgin Atlantic, as mentioned earlier, is atrocious. It is late delivering Web site information (http://www.virgin-atlantic.com/en/gb/passengerinformation/latestnews/snow.jsp), but doing better on its Twitter feed: http://twitter.com/VirginAtlantic
+ AirFrance/KLM is updating on the Air France Web site (http://www.airfrance.us) and the KLM Twitter feed: http://twitter.com/KLM
+ Lufthansa, whose hubs at Frankfurt and Munich have been hard hit, is updating at its Web site (http://www.lufthansa.com/de/en/Travel-information?blt_p=DE&blt_l=en) and its Twitter feed: http://twitter.com/Lufthansa_USA
+ Heathrow Airport, which has been essentially closed all weekend, is updating on its home page (http://www.heathrowairport.com) and its Twitter page (http://twitter.com/heathrowairport)

Finally, a reminder: If you are negatively impacted (How's that for a term?) by this storm and are struggling with a Europe-originating flight, you are covered by EC passengers' rights regulations. You may be due substantial compensation. Consult this site for details: http://www.airpassengerrights.eu/

11am ET 12/18/10, SATURDAY

There are massive delays and cancellations all over Europe as a result of heavy snow and very cold weather across the continent and Britain.

In short, try not to travel to Europe this weekend. If you are trying to get home, be patient and check with your airline before going to the airport. And especially check the Twitter feed of Eurocontrol, the air-traffic control entity for Europe. Its feed is doing a remarkably good job keeping people informed of the general situation.

Some specifics:
+ Most British Airways flights to/from London airports have been cancelled today. Most of the UK's airports have been closed for periods overnight (US time) due to at least six inches of snow and temperatures that dropped as low as 10 degrees Fahrenheit. It's currently 30F degrees in London. And continued snow is predicted through the weekend.
+ Florence and Pisa Airports have been closed, as have many huge parts of the Italian autostrada. Rome and Milan airports are open but struggling (which, of course, is also true in perfect weather…) Rome, which had political riots this week, has gone quiet because there has been snow--and temperatures cold enough to freeze the water in the city's many fountains.
+ About half of the flights in and out of Frankfurt have been cancelled over the last two days. Munich has been less severely affected, but there are delays and cancellations there, too. The German autobahn has been snarled and that has caused sporadic shortages of gasoline.
+ Flights into and out of Paris are operating, but with long delays and plenty of cancellations. The same is true for Amsterdam Schiphol.
+ Secondary airports in Europe such as Budapest have closed.
+ At last report, at least 60 percent of all the flights in Europe are struggling with delays that exceed 45 minutes.
+ The Eurostar train between London and Paris is operating, but with long delays. European rail service generally is operating, but with many cancellations and long delays.
+ Most airlines have quietly issued fee waivers to allow you to change your itineraries without penalty over the next several days. Continental, for example, has waived penalties for changes to flights to/from the UK scheduled for yesterday, today and tomorrow.

What's working? Well, the Nordic hubs of Copenhagen and Helsinki. Dublin is fine. Madrid is delayed but running. But the question is: Where you gonna go with so much of the continent buried in snow and ice?

Oh, for those of you who live in the American Northeast and Midwest: Yes, I know, conditions aren't harsh by your standards. But Europe isn't used to this. Have pity on them--and our fellow flyers in the Southeast, where similar weather is causing discomfort and delays.

ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.

THE FINE PRINT All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.

This column is Copyright © 2010 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2010 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.