Unexpectedly extreme weather has caused chaos in the eastern Mediterranean this week. Since the weekend, deep snowfall has seen Turkey’s largest and newest airport in Istanbul grinding to a halt. Passengers are reporting being stuck in the airport for more than 30 hours, and the roof of a cargo building has collapsed under the weight of the fallen snow.
The eastern Mediterranean area is usually a hot spot for vacationers, even in the winter season. While temperatures might not be as high as the summer, even January and February will see visitors arriving to grab a little sunshine in Turkey and Greece. But for anyone who has braved the COVID confusion this January, the climate may not be exactly what they expected.
In the past 24 hours, heavy snowfall has blanketed the eastern Med, causing chaos in countries that are wholly unused to coping with such conditions. In Athens, thousands were evacuated from a motorway amid gridlocked traffic. At the popular beach resort of Antalya was carpeted in snow for the first time in 29 years.
As you might expect, the disruption has hit the airports too. Videos posted online of the wintry conditions in Turkey’s biggest airport look more like Siberia than Istanbul, illustrating the challenging conditions being experienced at the facility.
Cold weather operations ⛄️
— Capt. Puneet Nagi (@CaptPuneetNagi) January 25, 2022
Unsurprisingly, flights to and from the airport were halted, with a complete stop occurring at around 18:00 local time yesterday. National carrier Turkish Airlines suspended all flights until this morning. In total, Turkish has canceled 36 flights so far at Istanbul, and 31 at Sabiha Gokcen, the city’s second airport. Low-cost Pegasus has said it has canceled more than 50 flights.
— HavaSosyalMedya® (@HavaSosyalMedya) January 24, 2022
Stay informed: Sign up for our daily and weekly aviation news digests.
Passengers stranded and building collapses
The inclement weather has caused the first shutdown of IST airport since the facility opened in 2019. The major international network of Turkish Airlines means the flight cancelations have sent ripples across airline networks worldwide. Data from Flight Aware shows 646 total flight cancelations in the past 24 hours, while FlightRadar24.com is showing services canceled well into Wednesday morning.
Passengers who should have been traveling from IST have found themselves at the mercy of the airport facilities. A lack of preparedness for such incidents has seen many spending 30 hours or more in the airport facilities. Videos shared online show passengers sleeping on conveyor belts, while some have started to protest the lack of hotel accommodation on offer.
— Riza Seref (@RizaSeref) January 25, 2022
Funnily enough this video with passengers protesting at Istanbul airport has disappeared from my timeline @TurkishAirlines @BBCBreaking we have been here for two nights with no provision for hotel and one meal. Personally I would prefer an immediate flight to make my obligations pic.twitter.com/UcUzmYaXGm
— Property With Mimi (@Property_Mimi) January 25, 2022
At the airport, the roof of a cargo terminal was reported to have collapsed under the weight of the snow. CCTV captured the event:
— Breaking Aviation News & Videos (@aviationbrk) January 25, 2022
Thankfully nobody was injured in the collapse. The hangar was not in use at the time, and was still under construction. Nevertheless, it’s a pretty disastrous outcome for one of the world’s newest airports, and will inevitably see some investigations carried out in the aftermath.
Istanbul airport cargo terminal roof collapses under weight of snow. pic.twitter.com/ctOViBaIEz
— Rick Petree (@RickPetree) January 24, 2022
Originally, the airport had planned to reopen today. However, freezing conditions and ongoing snowfall has made it difficult to clear the runways and taxiways adequately. Both passengers and airlines are hoping some normality can be restored tomorrow.