Fights Start As Thousands Stuck In Moscow Airports

December 29, 2010

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Irate passengers fought with Aeroflot staff at a Moscow airport on Tuesday as thousands were stranded with little food or information, after icy rain and blackouts disrupted traffic for a third straight day.

At Sheremetyevo where Russia's flagship carrier is based, Aeroflot personnel were now scared of dealing with agitated passengers, saying the airport did not have enough security guards, state-run RIA quoted an airline employee as saying.

Police said they were not involved in the reported violence at Sheremetyevo and declined to comment.

On Monday a group of passengers stormed passport control at Moscow's Domodedovo, Russia's biggest airport, where OMON riot police have since been dispatched.

"People are desperate. Fights have broken out. It feels like there is no air in here," one woman at Domodedovo told Vesti 24 television on Tuesday.

Russia's transport minister issued blistering criticism of the management of the country's largest airport, Domodedovo, saying it should have shut because of the power cuts instead of keeping passengers hostage waiting for their flights.

"Here is a question for the airport's management -- why did they keep receiving passengers?" Igor Levitin was quoted by the Itar-Tass news agency as saying. "After the lights went out, they should have shut!"

Prosecutors launched a probe on Tuesday into the widespread delays at the Russian capital's two main airports.

Only 150 flights took off overnight at Domodedovo, which typically handles some 700 flights a day, after freezing rain snapped power lines leaving it in the dark for more than 10 hours over the weekend.

Arrival and departure information boards were almost all red, warning of delays and cancellations as passengers slept on baggage conveyor belts and departure hall floors.

Russia's aviation agency chief Alexander Neradko said in televised comments that it would take another two to three days for transport to return to normal at Domodedovo and that priority was being given to passengers stuck since Sunday.

Shortages of de-icing fluid at Moscow's second airport, Sheremetyevo, grounded about half its flights.

Other Moscow airports have also seen traffic severely cut after freezing rain coated the city in a thick sheet of ice, and health officials advised Russians to stay at home. Heavy snow and sub-zero temperatures are typical fare for Moscow's airports but the weekend downpour of freezing rain was unusual.

The Russian Tourism Association said some 20,000 passengers have had their flights delayed, though airport authorities say the number is in the low thousands.