Europe’s busiest airport in Istanbul welcomed its first flight in 24 hours yesterday and Greece declared a public holiday as the eastern Mediterranean neighbours began digging out of a rare snowstorm that ground their capitals to a halt.
Turkish officials ordered all private vehicles off the snow-clogged streets of Istanbul while the Greek military joined rescuers in trying to evacuate hundreds of stranded drivers in Athens.
Major highways were closed across both countries and basic services such as food delivery shut down. But much of the international attention focused on the fate of Istanbul’s main airport — a gleaming glass-and-steel structure that offers connecting flights spanning much of the world.
A blizzard on Monday closed Istanbul Airport for the first time since it took over from the old Ataturk Airport as the new hub for Turkish Airlines in 2019.
It tweeted an image yesterday of the first flight since Monday afternoon landing from the Venezuelan capital Caracas after one of the runways was cleared to accept a few flights.
But only one of the three runways remained opened and just a handful of the hundreds of delayed flights were scheduled to take off or land yesterday.
Istanbul Airport serviced more than 37 million passengers last year despite disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic. It first grabbed the title of Europe’s busiest airport in 2020 — just a year after it opened — thanks to Turkey’s decision to allow travellers to freely enter the country in a bid to boost tourism revenues.
Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport came in second last year by accepting nearly 31 million passengers.
Traditional capitals of European travel before the pandemic — including London and Paris — have seen their passenger numbers implode as global carriers rearrange their flight patterns to fit the new realities.
Yet President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s critics had long questioned his decision to place the airport on a remote patch along the Black Sea coast that is often covered with fog in winter.
The situation appeared just as chaotic in Greece. Officials said 3,500 trapped motorists had to be rescued from their vehicles on the main highway encircling Athens.
Aircraft parked on the tarmac of Istanbul airport, where flights were cancelled due to blizzard and heavy snowfall, in Istanbul yesterday. (AFP)