Monday, 19 April 2010

Europe versus the volcano

As you're jetting around the world this week, Americans, think of us poor souls in Europe, trapped in our respective cities. We're now in the 5th day of the flight ban caused by the giant ash cloud covering Europe, and many are the stories of the "ash refugees" spread across not just Europe, but the entire world. I have a colleague trapped in Norway, my father's stuck in the US, and I have friends stuck in Southern France, Spain, Ireland, Bangkok, you name it.

The stories of people making long and bizarre treks across Europe via ground transport have been numerous. Saturday night I went to a friend's going-away party in Antwerp, and people there were full with stories about how they had made last-minute arrangements to get to Belgium by train after their flights were canceled.

The people having the most difficult time in all of this are those that have to get back to the British Isles. An island is perhaps not the best place to live during an air travel ban. People have apparently just been showing up to Calais, desperate to get one of the coveted spots on the ferries across the English Channel. I've heard John Cleese, who was receiving an award in Norway when the volcano erupted, actually hired a taxi to drive him all the way back to London from Oslo via the Oresund Bridge and the Channel Tunnel. My colleague in Norway, for her part, is trying to get a boat to Brussels.

It really makes you think about how much we depend on air travel these days. This disruption has already surpassed the length and level of the disruption to air travel after 9/11, making it the biggest aviation disruption in modern history. The Icelandic volcano spewing the ash into the air is apparently not going to stop erupting any time soon, and it once erupted for two whole years back in the 19th century. Airlines are now entering a panic, and today they've said the current situation is not sustainable. Some airlines are conducting experimental flights to see how safe it is to fly in the ash, perhaps at lower altitudes. But what is clear is that they're going to have to figure something out quick, because there doesn't seem to be any end in sight to this eruption.

Luckily, I don't have any plans to be flying any time in the near future, as all the trips I have coming up are by train.

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