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.
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
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.)