Was there a silver lining to that volcanic ash cloud?

Well, no. Millions of people– and not just air travelers– were affected by that giant cloud of volcanic ash that cancelled flights into and out of Europe last week, including flower salesmen in Kenya, potential organ transplant recipients in Germany, and injured U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But some are now declaring that there’s a silver lining to the Great Smoke Monster Uprising of 2010. Keith Sawyer, a psychology professor at Washington University in St. Louis, says that gridlock at the airport might actually be good for travelers because it will help them rediscover their inherent “creativity.” From the article:

Like it or not, stranded travelers around the globe are suddenly finding themselves with a lot of unscheduled time on their hands, and idle time is a key ingredient to becoming more creative in your personal and professional lives, says Sawyer.

As Russ Roberts points out, the only explanation for Sawyer’s odd hypothesis is that the man has never had his flight canceled or delayed.

Sawyer is not alone in trying to decipher a minuscule, probably illusory bright spot in a sea of horribleness. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette thinks it will be a boon for the upcoming Pittsburgh Marathon. (Woo-hoo!) Elsewhere, investment bankers may stand to profit. (Double woo-hoo!) And FedEx also sees a possible silver lining in the mess.

While I admire the optimism, can’t we all just agree that the interruption of air travel into and out of Europe for almost a week was a completely awful thing? No silver lining. No “but on the other hand…” Thousands of people lost loads of money, many others were inconvenienced beyond belief, still others didn’t receive the medicines (or organs!) they needed. It is a little like pointing out that 9/11 was terrible but at least it “brought the country together.” No, it was terrible, period. So was last week.

For a more thoughtful consideration of the implications of the recent air travel disruption, check out Eric Weiner’s piece over at World Hum “Seven Lessons from the Great Volcano Shutdown of 2010.”