Volcanic air-travel shutdown a unique challengeWritten by Roger Holliday Claudia Fischer | | email@example.com
After almost a quarter century of leading groups around the world, we’ve been on the pointy edge of just about every conceivable travel convulsion.
We’ve been delayed by ice and snow and high winds. By mechanical failures and tardy flight crews. By strikes, slow-downs, student demonstrations. By terror alerts and sickness.
You name it. We’ve probably been there.
But the idea that air travel throughout Europe and around the world could be brought a complete standstill for the better part of a week by some unpronounceable volcano in Iceland, well, that’s something that in our wildest dreams we could never have anticipated!
And it’s not that we’re unfamiliar with volcanoes.
We’ve watched Mount Etna throw out its molten lava while eating dinner in the safe confines of a Sicilian restaurant. We’ve trekked to the very rim of Mt. Vesuvius and peered down into its awesome crater and then seen for ourselves the dramatic eruption results in Pompeii. And we have a copy of Simon Winchester’s account of the Krakatoa disaster, signed by the author.
But what happened last week when Eyjafjallajokull (alternatively known as E-15) erupted through a sheet of ice, pulsing plumes of dangerous ash into the flyways of the world’s airlines, is nowhere in our volcanic vocabulary!
By now we do know some of the numbers.
Like 95,000 flights cancelled. Eight million passengers stranded worldwide. Airlines losing $200 million a day and several billion for the week. Add to all that the costs of lost commerce. And missed shipments like vegetables, flowers and nuts. The cancellation of business meetings. And conferences. And sporting events. And we’re starting to get into some serious money!
What we will never know or be able to totally comprehend, unless we were actually caught up in the chaos are the millions of human dramas.We’ve heard a few of the stories.
Like the endless days and nights hunkered down in airport terminals. Trying vainly to get current travel information. Listening in on all the churning rumor mills. And the awful uncertainty of a fluid situation and never knowing what was happening.
Then those gut wrenching decisions. Whether to wait at the airport. Or make a run for alternate transportation onto already overflowing trains, buses and ferries. Or to try for new accommodations with the money running out.
And what about the hundreds of stranded tour groups of students or seniors or hikers or art lovers who missed their trip of a lifetime, their river cruise or bus tour or transatlantic crossing?
According to reports, it’s going to take weeks for the airlines to clear up the passenger backlog with planes and crews out of position and preference going to currently booked passengers. And it’s certainly going to take many more months, if not years, to work on all the insurance claims and the refunds and the litigation.
There are a few upsides that we can think of.
- A flurry of scientific studies on the effect of volcanic ash on jet engines will certainly be initiated.
- There’ll be better coordination in future among the European civil aviation authorities
- And perhaps, best of all, anyone living in the flight paths of all those screaming jets will have had at least five restful nights and a chance to hear the morning birds!
There are also lessons to be learned by the rest of us.
- Use a travel agent to book your trip and enjoy personal assistance in case of travel disruptions like this. Their fees are a small price to pay.
- Purchase travel insurance for overseas trips — cancellation and interruption. And read the fine print.
- Carry a cell phone that will work in the countries you’re visiting.
- Make sure you have emergency phone numbers for your travel agent, airline, rental car company, hotel et al.
- Allow some flex time in your itinerary for unexpected delays.
- Always stay abreast of current events wherever you are. A pocket radio can help.
- Make sure you have enough money to handle emergencies.
- Travel light to ensure mobility. And that means no luggage bigger than standard 22-inch carry-on size.
- And always have a Plan B in case of unexpected delays or erupting volcanoes!
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