Airlines to EU: “Let us fly!”

Airlines are begging the European Union to reconsider the flight ban after four days of no flying have left millions stranded or stuck at home and has cost the airlines hundreds of millions of dollars.

At the urging of the airlines, EU transport ministers are holding a conference on the possibility of lifting the flight ban in areas with lesser concentrations of ash. They’re also discussing using Spain as a hub to fly European passengers back from international destinations and then busing them into their affected countries. Some airports in northern Spain closed over the weekend but have now reopened. The conference is being held via video since most ministers are grounded.

Several airlines have conducted test flights, although most have stayed below the level of the highest concentration of volcanic ash. A British Airways test flight from Heathrow to Cardiff yesterday, however, went up to 10,000 feet, then up 5,000 feet in stages every five minutes until it reached an altitude of 40,000 feet. The flight flew over a portion of the Atlantic and BA says it experienced no difficulties. The plane’s engines are now being examined for damage from the ash, which contains minerals and silica that have jammed jet engines in the past.

Some of the worst affected countries are starting their own measures. The United Kingdom will use three Royal Navy ships to ferry some of its 150,000 stranded citizens back home. Trains, buses, and ferries are seeing record ticket sales.

On a more personal note, my wife, who’s a contributor to the Ethiopia travel series, is still stranded in England. She was taking a flight from our home in Madrid to Toronto via Heathrow and got stuck there. If she had flown two hours earlier she would have made it to Canada; two hours later and she would have never left Spain! We’re racking up hundreds of dollars in hotel bills with no guarantee we’ll be reimbursed, and her travel agency isn’t answering emails. She hopes to get on a train, but with a threatened rail strike here in Madrid, things seem to be only getting worse. And I can tell you it’s no fun explaining to your four-year-old that you don’t know when mom’s coming home.