Hundreds more flights cancelled as snow blankets Istanbul

A snowplough sweeping away snow at Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul on Jan 7, 2017.
A snowplough sweeping away snow at Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul on Jan 7, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

ISTANBUL (AFP) - Heavy snow blanketed Istanbul for a second day on Sunday (Jan 8), resulting in the cancellation of hundreds of flights and more disruption for thousands of travellers.

The snowfall was forecast to lessen later in the day but temperatures well below freezing, unusually cold even for the time of year, were expected throughout the week. Flag carrier Turkish Airlines (THY) cancelled over 600 flights - including all domestic routes until the evening - as efforts continued to clear snow from its hub of Ataturk International Airport.

THY chief executive Bilal Eksi said on his Twitter account that over 10,000 travellers unable to reach Istanbul had been accommodated in hotels while well over 5,000 who could not leave were accommodated in the city.

After angry complaints from some stranded travellers on social media, he added: "We are working to ensure our passengers do not suffer in these difficult conditions."

He said the problems were due to a lack of take-off and landing slots at Ataturk in the snow conditions, with only 172 take-offs and 209 landings scheduled on Sunday.

On a normal busy day, the airport can accommodate over 1,500 landings and take-offs.

The Istanbul municipality meanwhile sent over 1,300 vehicles and 7,000 personnel into the streets to clear the snow.

The city's metro and tram systems worked round the clock to make up for the problems on the roads.

However with winds lessening and visibility improving, the Bosphorus reopened to shipping traffic and urban ferry services also resumed.

For those not travelling, however, the snow was a boon , with photographers seizing the chance to see Istanbul's famous minaret- and dome-studded skyline cloaked in white.

"It is the most beautiful city on earth," said amateur photographer Doganay Baltaci in the historic Sultanahmet district.

"But when it is covered in white like this it is even more beautiful."