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France

Trains and boats and no planes

Text by Perrine MOUTERDE

Latest update : 2010-04-20

The suspension of flights over most of Europe has left tens of thousands of travellers stranded around the globe. France 24 spoke to people who are trying desperately to reach their intended destinations.

French lawyer and holidaymaker Liz Lacharpagne was on five-day trip to Morocco on an all-inclusive package when the ash cloud began to wreak havoc.

Lacharpagne told France 24: “I got an alert Thursday on my iPhone saying that a volcano had erupted, but I didn’t pay much attention. On Friday, though, when I got to the airport in Fez, it was total chaos. Our airline, Royal Air Maroc, told us to come back tomorrow. We spent an additional night at Fez and waited for news about whether the ash cloud was rising or falling.”

Finally, Lacharpagne decided to take matters into her own hands. She took a bus from Fez to Tangiers, spnt a night there and then stood in line for two hours to take a boat to the southern coast of Spain.

“We’ll get there soon," she said, “but I don’t know what we’re going to do there. We’re looking for someone who can take us by car or truck, but we haven’t found anyone.”

Time to be resourceful

Some passengers on Lacharpagne’s ferry are planning to rent cars. While air transport is paralysed, travellers are scrambling for any means to get to their destination — taxi, car-sharing, bus or boat.

Car rental agencies are overwhelmed. One branch of the Avis car rental company in Paris told France 24 that normally it would have about 60 rental cars out at one time. With this unprecedented crisis, 150 cars were rented on Saturday.

The shortage of rental cars has spurred many to seek to share cars. The site Road Sharing, for example, which connects drivers with people seeking rides, has seen a 30% increase in use.

France 24 spoke to French holidaymaker Alexandra Claironne, who had to hire a taxi and two rental cars to get from Irun, on the Spanish-French border, to Biarritz, about 30 kilometres away in France.

Railway companies SNCF and Eurostar have dispatched additional trains to cope with increased demand. The Euroline coach company is also overwhelmed by European passengers trying to book long-distance journeys. Ferries are also reporting record use. The P&O cross-channel ferry company says it transported 6,000 passengers on Friday, whereas on a normal April day it carries between 100 and 200 passengers.

Using their imaginations

AFP reported the story of one resourceful Brit stuck in France who bought a bicycle so that he could get on a ferry — passenger seats had all been sold out, but seats for cyclists were still available.

UK television presenter Dan Snow also had an original idea — which unfortunately was scuppered. To rescue Brits stuck in France, he chartered five pneumatic boats with the intention of taking 300  per day, in three trips, from Calais to Dover.

He wrote on his Twitter account that the trip had been cancelled “without reason”,  but later it surfaced that French port authorities prohibited the mission, saying it was a violation of international maritime law.

Those stranded are having to keep a stiff upper lip despite the inconvenience and uncertainty.

Lacharpagne said, “I’m a lawyer. I’m supposed to be in court tomorrow. But I’m patiently trying to make the best of a bad situation.”

Date created : 2010-04-19

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