Stranded travelers have days to wait

More bad news for travelers stranded by the volcanic eruption in Iceland–the cloud of ash has spread across a wider swath of Europe and it will be days before it dissipates.

The volcano is still churning out large amounts of ash, and with the current wind patterns meteorologists say the cloud will probably stay put until later this week. Even after the skies become safe to fly again, nobody is sure how long it will take to deal with the tremendous backlog of passengers.

Yesterday only 5,000 flights flew within Europe, out of a scheduled 22,000. These flights were between the few remaining nations lucky enough to still have clear airspace. The cloud has affected international flights too, with the majority of flights to Europe from the United States having been canceled.

Those countries that have closed down their airspace entirely include: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. Those with partial closures and severe delays include Italy, Norway, and Spain.

Yesterday the European Union asked KLM and Lufthansa to run test flights to see if the engines would be damaged by the ash. All eleven airplanes made it to their destinations safely and are being examined for damage. KLM said its initial tests show no problems, and the airline Ukraine International has declared that after its own safety tests it was resuming service.

From a personal point of view, I don’t hold out much hope of seeing my wife fly back from England anytime soon. The best bet seems to be for her to take the Eurostar from London to Paris, and then another train back to Madrid. But with thousands of other people jostling for tickets, and the trip costing more than 300 euros with no guarantee that she’ll be reimbursed, it’s a pretty poor option. In the meantime she’s visiting friends in Oxford and would be cheered up if you looked at her photos from our Ethiopia travel series.