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Travel woes continue as ash plume lingers over Europe

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-04-18

Air traffic disruptions showed no signs of abating on Sunday as Europe’s aviation lockdown continued for a fourth day due to a volcanic ash cloud originating from Iceland that has delayed thousands of flights and compounded airline losses.

Have your travel plans been disrupted by the volcanic ash cloud? Are you stuck at the airport? Tell FRANCE 24 about your ordeal by posting your story below in the comment section.

A massive cloud of ash from an Icelandic volcano drifted further south and east Sunday, crippling European air traffic for a fourth day and stranding millions of passengers across the globe as the economic fallout of the biggest airspace shutdown since World War II mounted.

But in the first glimmer of hope since the Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted Wednesday, test flights by two airline companies - Dutch airline KLM and Germany's Lufthansa - Saturday found their planes apparently undamaged by the volcanic ash.

According to a senior KLM official, the airline flew a Boeing 737 over the Netherlands at an altitude of about 10 to 13 kilometres. No damage was evident, said KLM CEO Peter Hartman, and if further test flights were successful, the airline hoped to get permission to partially restart its operations.

Germany's Lufthansa airlines flew several planes to Frankfurt from Munich in test runs. "All airplanes have been inspected on arrival in Frankfurt but there was no damage to the cockpit windows or fuselage and no impact on the engines," said a company spokesman. Air France has reported that it will also begin test flights Sunday.

Scientists say volcanic ash has an abrasive effect and can strip off vital aerodynamic surfaces and paralyse an aircraft engine, while aircraft avionics and electronics can also be damaged.

Woes continue into next week

Worldwide aviation woes, however, looked set to continue through the weekend and into next week with France extending the closure of three Paris airports – including CDG, one of the world’s busiest airports - until Monday 6am GMT. However, several airports reopened in southern France on Sunday including Nice, Marseille, Bordeaux and Toulouse.

The UK has extended a ban on most flights in its airspace until midnight Sunday. Dutch airspace meanwhile will remain closed until noon GMT. British Airways said on
 it had cancelled all its flights on Monday.

Meteorologists have warned that light winds over Europe could increase the ash concentration early next week even as the cloud drifted toward southern and eastern Europe.

As a flight backlog built up across the world, stranding millions of passengers, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said the situation was not likely to improve Sunday.

"Right now through most of Europe we do not see many flights moving at all," spokesman Steve Lott told the AFP news agency.

A ripple effect on other economic sectors

The widespread flight delays and cancellations come at a critical time economically for airlines.

According to the IATA, the current disruptions are costing airlines more than $200 million (230 million euros) a day.

The aerial lockdown was also expected to affect a number of industries – including the tourism sector. “What we’re beginning to understand now is the ripple effect that it has on other, less visible sectors of the economy,” Denis Chagnon, a spokesman for the International Civil Aviation Organisation, told FRANCE 24. “For example, fresh produce, perishable produce that are flown in by aircraft will also be delayed and this may cause havoc on those industries as well.”


The latest disruptions have stranded millions of passengers, not only in Europe, but those from as far afield as New Zealand and California.

On Saturday some 18,000 flights across Europe were cancelled – a normal Saturday would have seen around 22,000 flights.

Disgruntled passengers across Europe have been scrambling to find accommodation and alternative transportation.

Stuck in New York, holidaymakers Olivier and Cathy told FRANCE 24 in an online comment that Air France had only paid for a single night at a hotel and that they were now footing the hotel bills. “Who will reimburse these unforeseen expenses?”

In an online comment, Boré told FRANCE 24 that he had spent the two nights at the Singapore airport but that airport authorities were providing food, sleeping bags, pillows and that he was given a tourist visa for a few hours.

Travellers, holidaymakers, diplomats and celebrities alike, turned to packed trains, buses, boats and taxis on Friday.

A group of 15 French students from southern France told FRANCE 24 about their efforts to find alternative ways to get home from their school trip in Bergen, Norway. One of the students told us: “It’ll take us a little over 52 hours to reach Lyon. We’ll first take a bus from Bergen to Oslo, from there we’ll cross over to Copenhagen [Denmark] via ferry. From Copenhagen, we’ll take a train to Hamburg and then Hanover in Germany, before an overnight train to Metz in eastern France. Then we’ll catch a train to Paris and then, finally, a train to Lyon….It’s tiring but at least we’ll get home.”

In Paris and London, thousands of passengers rushed to get tickets for the Eurostar cross-Channel rail service. But Eurostar said that even the three extra Paris-London trains could not keep up with demand.

Date created : 2010-04-18


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