Aviation experts are saying that the volcanic plume has caused the worst travel disruption Europe — and the world — has ever seen, except during wars.
Anxious passengers have told stories of missed weddings, graduations, school and holidays because of the current situation and some world leaders canceled plans to attend Sunday’s state funeral for Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his wife Maria in the southern city of Krakow.
So at the moment most of northern and central Europe’s airspace has been shut down, affecting airports from New Zealand to San Francisco.
Today, the French prime minister extended the closure of airspace in northern France until Monday morning. British airspace is closed until at least 0600 GMT Sunday, and forecasters said the ash cloud would progressively cover the whole of the U.K. later Saturday. British Airways is canceling all short-haul flights to and from London airports Sunday.
There always seems to be from a black cloud a silver lining, there has been a huge rush on ferry and Eurostar bookings from the U.K. to the Mainland Europe as passengers rushed to book a ride on ferries, in rental cars or taxis. P&O Ferries said its ferry services from France’s Calais to Britain’s Dover were overbooked and there was no space left on their ferries for foot passengers, whilst dozens of people have called in to ask about trans-Atlantic crossings to New York aboard the Queen Mary 2 cruiser.
There are more implications due to the flight ban. Shoppers were warned today that continued flight bans could spark shortages of imported fresh fruit and vegetables. Until now there are no shortages yet, but exotic fruit and flowers as well as other products which are usually flown in could be in very short supply.
The Belgian and Swiss governments extended their ban until Saturday evening. Italian aviation authorities were closing airspace in northern Italy on Saturday until 1800 GMT. Spain’s Iberia airline is canceling most of its European flights until further notice. In the Nordics, air space in the central and southern parts of the region was expected to remain closed at least until Sunday afternoon.
At least 45 flights between Europe and Asia were canceled Saturday. Australia’s Qantas canceled all flights to Europe, and passengers were being offered refunds or seats on the next available flight.
The European air navigation safety agency Eurocontrol says that only some 5,000 flights will take place in Europe on Saturday compared to 22,000 in normal circumstances. On Friday, U.S. airlines canceled 280 of the more than 330 trans-Atlantic flights of a normal day. The International Air Transport Association says the volcano is costing the industry at least $200 million a day.
In Iceland, torrents of water have carried away chunks of ice the size of small houses. Sections of the country’s main ring road were wiped out by the flash floods. More floods from melting waters are expected as long as the volcano keeps erupting — and in 1821, the same volcano managed to erupt for more than a year, let’s hope that history doesn’t repeat itself or we will be in for a summer of air travel chaos.