Massive flight disruptions continue in Europe

Europe is suffering its second day of travel chaos as a giant plume of ash from an Icelandic volcano grounds an estimated 5,000 flights. Aviation officials say airplanes could be grounded into the weekend.

The skies over several countries are completely closed. These include the UK, Ireland, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, The Netherlands, Finland, and Lithuania. Parts of the airspace over Sweden, France, Germany, Poland, and Austria are also closed.

Volcanic ash can cause jet engines to seize up, so it would be highly risky to start flights until the cloud has dissipated. It’s unclear when that will happen since it depends on weather conditions and the volcano itself. Officials say the skies over the UK will remain closed until at least one a.m. Saturday local time.

One of the hundreds of thousands of people affected is my wife, Almudena, who is responsible for many of the best photos in our travel series about Ethiopia. She left early in the morning yesterday to attend a meeting in Toronto. She had a layover at Heathrow, and made it just in time to get stuck there. British Airways gave her a hotel and meal voucher for one night. This morning the hotel hadn’t heard from BA, and the airline’s phone lines are jammed, so she has to go back to Heathrow to get another hotel voucher. Since so many people are in the same situation, she’s probably going to have to wait in the biggest line of her life.

Update: No line, because the airport is completely closed. Almudena reports there were no British Airways representatives anywhere, they didn’t tell her hotel to extend her stay, and she’s had to pay for another night out of her own pocket. Thanks BA! Good thing our four-year-old boy is safe with me and not stranded with her.