- Associated Press - Saturday, December 25, 2010

PARIS (AP) — Hundreds of travelers in Europe got their own special Christmas present — an actual plane flight Saturday after spending the night curled up on hard airport floors in Brussels and Paris.

Air traffic returned to nearly normal Saturday at Paris’ main airport, where hundreds were stuck overnight and personnel handed out Christmas puppets and chocolates to stranded families.

Snowfall and severe shortages of deicing fluid meant hundreds of flights were canceled at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport and other European airports Friday. But sunny skies and two shipments of deicing fluid from the United States helped Charles de Gaulle rebound.

“There were a couple of people screaming and shouting and fighting, but we all handle stress and problems differently,” said Gigi Zagora, a 27-year-old from Johannesburg, South Africa, stuck overnight at the Paris airport. “(I sought a) certain type of peace to say, ‘OK, well, there is nothing I can do.’”

Flight screens showed only a few delays Christmas Day in Paris. Children who slept in terminals overnight clutched their new puppets and, with other weary travelers, eagerly lined up to board.

A member of the Seehunde Berlin, or Berlin Seals, swimming club takes a dip in the frozen Orankesee lake in Berlin on Saturday, Dec. 25, 2010. Every Christmas, the club arranges a holiday swimming session in the lake. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
A member of the Seehunde Berlin, or Berlin Seals, swimming club takes ... more >

In Brussels, about 500 stranded passengers spent Christmas Eve at the airport after 10 inches of snow fell early Friday, the heaviest snowstorm in the Belgian capital since 1964.

“I’ve never had such Christmas before,” said Ron Van Kooe, who slept in the terminal. “It’s one not to forget, actually. But also a lesson for the future to never book a flight on this date.”

A Brussels airport spokesman said the situation had normalized by Saturday afternoon and that remaining stranded passengers were on their way out.

In Germany, the situation in the skies and on the rails improved Saturday, after Duesseldorf Airport was closed for several hours Friday and many trains saw delays.

France’s top transport officials went to the airport Friday and Saturday to try to calm tensions and defuse criticism that Paris was not well prepared enough for the wintry weather.

At Charles de Gaulle Airport overnight, parents covered babies on cots with airport-issued blankets and jackets. The airport turned up the heat and installed all-night police and ambulance patrols for the unusual holiday vigil.

Unusually large amounts of snow in some Western European cities have caused sweeping shutdowns and delays. London and Paris, not as accustomed to flying planes in below-freezing temperatures, buckled under the snow.

Shortages of deicing fluid hit airports in Ireland and Belgium as well, leading to a domino effect of delays around the Continent.

The weather was perfect for some Saturday. In Berlin, the “Berlin Seals” swimming club enjoyed a suitably wintry backdrop for its annual Christmas dip at the part-frozen Orankesee lake in the German capital. Many of the swimmers turned out in red Santa Claus hats and one as Neptune.

Slobodan Lekic in Brussels and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.