Flights Resume in Europe But Travel Chaos Not Over | NECN

Flights Resume in Europe But Travel Chaos Not Over



    LONDON (AP) - Many European flights took to the skies Tuesday
    for the first time in days, with even Britain's busy airports
    promising to reopen, but the travel chaos was far from over: a
    massive flight backlog was growing and scientists feared yet

    another volcanic eruption in Iceland.

    London airports were closed during the day Tuesday, and in the
    evening officials said they would reopen all U.K. airports Tuesday
    night. British Airways said it hoped to land two dozen flights in
    London from the United States, Asia and Africa.
    It was the first day since Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull
     volcano erupted Wednesday that
    travelers were given a glimmer of hope.
    Cheers and applause broke out as flights took off from Paris'
    Charles de Gaulle Airport, Amsterdam and elsewhere. German airspace
    remained officially closed but 800 planes were allowed to land or
    take off, all flying at low altitude.
    "Everyone was screaming in the airplane from happiness," said
    Savvas Toumarides of Cyprus, who arrived in New York after getting
    stuck in Amsterdam for five days and missing his sister's wedding.
    He said the worst part was "waiting and waiting and not knowing."
    "We were in the hotel having breakfast, and we heard an
    aircraft take off. Everybody got up and applauded," said Bob Basso
    of San Diego, who has been stranded near Charles de Gaulle since
    The Eurocontrol air traffic agency in Brussels said it expected
    just under half of Europe's 27,500 flights to go ahead Tuesday, a
    marked improvement over the last few days. The agency predicted
    close to normal takeoffs by Friday.
    "The situation today is much improved," said Brian Flynn,
    deputy head of operations at the Brussels-based agency.
    But with more than 95,000 flights canceled in the last week
    alone, airlines faced the enormous task of working through the
    backlog to get passengers where they want to go - a challenge that
    could take days or even weeks.
    Passengers with current tickets were being given priority -
    stranded passengers were being told to either pay for a new ticket,
    take the first available flight or to use their old ticket and wait
    for days, or weeks, for the first available seat.
    "I'm supposed to be home, my children are supposed to be in
    school," said Belgian Marie-Laurence Gregoire, 41, who was
    traveling in Japan with her husband and three children, ages 6, 8,
    10. They said the best that British Airways could do was put them
    on a flight to Rome.
    "I'm tired. I just want to go home," she said.
    Although seismic activity at the volcano has increased, the ash
    plume appeared to be shrinking Tuesday. Still, scientists were
    worried that the activity could trigger an even larger eruption at
    the nearby Katla volcano, which sits on the massive Myrdalsjokull
    icecap and has erupted every 80 years or so - the last time in
    "The activity of one volcano sometimes triggers the next one,
    and Katla has been active together with Eyjafjallajokull in the
    past," said Pall Einarsson, professor of geophysics at the
    Institute of Earth Sciences at the University of Iceland.
    At eruption at Katla could spark similar travel disruptions,
    depending on the prevailing winds. But in Iceland's eight volcanic
    eruptions in the last 40 years, only the recent one at
    Eyjafjallajokull was followed by winds blowing toward northern
    An international pilots group warned of continued danger because
    of the ash, which drifted over the North Sea and was being pushed
    back over Britain on Tuesday by shifting north winds.
    A Eurocontrol volcanic ash map on Tuesday listed the airspace
    between Iceland, Britain and Ireland as a no-fly zone, along with
    much of the area around the Baltic Sea. The ash cloud also spread
    westward from Iceland, toward Greenland and Canada's eastern
    Still, planes were being allowed to fly above 20,000 feet (7,000
    kilometers) over the United Kingdom.
    Herbert Puempel at the World Meteorological Organization in
    Geneva said there was a small possibility that some far-flung
    airports on the Canadian east coast, such as Goose Bay, might be
    affected by the ash but said "a serious effect on the eastern
    seaboard I think is very unlikely."
    The volcano was also grumbling - tremors, which geologists
    believe to be caused by magma rising through the crust, can be
    heard and felt as far as 16 miles (25 kilometers) from the crater.
    "It's like a shaking in the belly. People in the area are
    disturbed by this," said Kristin Vogfjord, geologist at the
    Icelandic Met Office.
    Scottish airports let in a handful of domestic flights, while
    Switzerland and northern Italy also opened their airspace. Some
    flights took off from Asia to southern Europe and came in from
    Cairo, where at least 17,000 people had been stranded.
     Airports in central Europe and Scandinavia were open and most of
    southern Europe remained clear. Spain volunteered to be an
    emergency hub for overseas travelers trying to get home and piled
    on extra buses, trains and ferries to handle the expected crush.
    Britain sent a navy ship to Spain to fetch 500 troops coming
    home from Afghanistan and pick up hundreds of passengers stranded
    by the chaos.
    "How many modes of transport have I been on? I have lost count
    now," said Angus Henderson, 40, of the 1st Battalion, Royal Welsh,
    an infantry unit. "Planes, buses and now ships."
     Henderson was pressing to get back to Britain to see his wife
    and three small kids and attend the funeral of a colleague killed
    in Afghanistan. But the trip on the HMS Albion, a 570-foot
    (173-meter-long) amphibious assault ship, will take 40 hours from
    Santander in northern Spain to Portsmouth, England.
          Patricia Quirke of Manchester said she and nine other families
    drove all night across Spain just to catch the Royal Navy ride.
          Many Asian airports and airlines remained cautious, and most
    flights to and from Europe were still canceled. Australia's Qantas
    canceled its Wednesday and Thursday flights from Asia to Frankfurt
    and London, as well as return flights to Asia, saying the situation
    was too uncertain.
    The aviation industry - facing losses of more than $1 billion -
    has sharply criticized European governments' handling of the
    disruption that grounded thousands of flights on the continent. But
    its first order of business was to cut down that flight backlog.
      "We've never had a backlog like this before," said Laurie
    Price, director of aviation strategy at consultant Mott Macdonald.
          Spain's main airline Iberia said it was using bigger planes and
    adding extra flights to help stranded passengers get to their
    destinations. Other airlines were hiring buses to help customers
    get home.
      Most airlines said they would let passengers with tickets for a
    departing flight this week go first, but offered to rebook
    customers on another plane for no additional cost.
          British Airways, which has canceled about 500 flights a day for
    the past five days, said it was trying to clear its backlog on a
    case-by-case basis. It said travelers could either rebook online or
    claim a full refund, and it also urged travelers booked to fly this
    week to consider canceling their trips so the airline could fly
    more people home.
      In the end, many people did not get a flight out Tuesday.
          Phil Livingstone, a university student from St. Helens, England,
    spent three nights sleeping on chairs and eating cups of noodles at
    Seoul's Incheon International Airport.
          "Hope is high at the minute just because it's the only thing
    we've got," he said.

          Associated Press writers Slobodan Lekic in Brussels, Carl
    Piovano in Reykjavik, Iceland, Alex Kennedy in Singapore, Megan
    Scott in New York, Jay Alabaster and Malcolm Foster in Tokyo, Jamey
    Keaten in Paris and other AP reporters around the world contributed
    to this report.
          (Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)