Air travel remains under a volcanic cloud

MILLIONS of stranded air passengers are facing spiralling costs and long waits as the travel chaos caused by huge plumes of volcanic ash shows no signs of reducing.

With airspace above the UK effectively in shutdown and airlines cancelling flights even beyond the period of the current restrictions, frustration was growing yesterday as travellers tried to return home.

Others have had to cancel holiday plans, with many still unclear as to what refunds or help they will receive under insurance deals.

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The confusion increased over the weekend as more passengers attempted to return home but few found flights going anywhere. Yesterday it was estimated that just 6,000 flights across Europe would be able to take off – compared to the 22,000 expected on a normal Saturday.

The cloud of ash created by the eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajoekull volcano has led to what has been described as an unprecedented global event. And with the ash continuing to spout into the air, many travellers were left wondering when airports would return to normal.

Scotland was one of the few places yesterday where flights did manage to land – albeit only briefly. Two planes arrived at Glasgow airport and passengers were taken by bus to onward destinations in Manchester and London.

An airport spokesman said the terminal was quiet, with only "dozens" of hopeful passengers remaining. "Very few people are here, in fact there are probably more BAA volunteer staff than passengers," the spokesman said. "It's very quiet and unfortunately the situation is unchanged."

The two arrivals included a British Airways flight from New York JFK intended for Heathrow, and a Thomas Cook flight from Orlando Sanford intended for Manchester.

British Airways also landed two flights at Prestwick Airport from New York.

As desperation set in some passengers asked staff for taxis to places as far away as the south of England.

At Edinburgh Airport, around 20 to 30 people were left scattered around the usually busy terminal yesterday, trying to find alternative travel arrangements. A spokesman said: "Some have been coming in. We were open last night then closed again, so that may have made some confusion.

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"We still have manned desks at the airport. People want to come in and talk to someone rather than use a website, which is human nature."

Some hotels in Edinburgh have responded to the travel chaos by cutting their rates to ease the burden on stranded passengers.

But elsewhere travellers have seen costs for hotels and other travel options rise alongside the growth in demand.

Other airports across the UK were also eerily quiet, as most passengers headed home or to hotels. One tearful traveller from Aberdeen said she had been waiting since Thursday to travel to Qatar to visit her parents. Wiping her eyes, she said: "I'm sick of it – it is very upsetting. We are now going to go back home because if we don't we will lose our holiday from work entirely."

Flight dispatcher Anthony Adeayo, 45, who was due to travel to Nigeria with British Airways, said his "major concern" was a financial one. "I have been staying in a hotel but have now checked out and do not know what I am going to do – I have limited financial resources here," he said.

Overseas, many UK travellers found there was nothing to do but extend their holiday. Jacquie Clayton and her family from Kingsknowe, Edinburgh, were due to return from Kuala Lumpur with Airasia, but have been told it could be eight days before services resume.

"We are presently staying in a little backpackers in the heart of Kuala Lumpur with similar stranded passengers from around the world," Clayton said. "My boys are due back at school on Tuesday, but this to their delight looks highly unlikely."

Clayton said the only foreseeable problem was that accommodation was quickly filling up as passengers became stranded with no other options, such as rail or bus, or with no possibility of travelling overland without appropriate visas. "Spirits, however are high as people realise that it is something out of their control," she said.

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British Airways said all flights to and from London airports today will be cancelled. A spokesman said: "We are keeping our flying schedule under constant review and will aim to give customers as much notice as possible once we receive more information from Nats."

Yesterday some stranded travellers were willing to go to extreme lengths – and costs – to get to their destination.

A British taxi firm collected its biggest ever fare of 1,200 when a group of businessmen booked a ride to Switzerland.

Ferry companies were inundated with enquiries from stranded air passengers. P&O Ferries said it was receiving 400 calls every 15 minutes – equivalent to one every two seconds.

Yesterday there were 40,000 attempts to call P&O; staff managed to answer 6,000 of them. P&O took 6,000 foot passengers across the Channel compared to the 100-200 it would expect on a normal Friday in April.

P&O crossings between Portsmouth and Bilbao are fully booked until Wednesday and crossings from Hull to Zeebrugge, in Belgium, and Rotterdam, in The Netherlands, until Monday.

Eurostar tickets were also in high demand. The Channel Tunnel train company reported full services, with 46,000 passengers on trains between London, Paris and Brussels.

But while some travel firms have benefited from the volcanic ash sweeping other Europe, the airline industry are badly out of pocket. Neil Morris of Deloitte said the cost to British and Irish scheduled airlines of the airspace closure was likely to be 26-28m per day. The International Air Transport Association said the volcano was costing the industry at least 130m a day.

The skies over Europe

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UK: All airspace closed until at least 6am today. British Airways cancelling all short-haul flights to and from London airports today.

France: Paris airports and about two dozen others in northern France will remain closed until at least tomorrow morning.

Germany: All airspace closed until at least 6am today.

Switzerland: Swiss air space remained closed at 6pm last night.

Austria: Airspace closed until midnight last night. Higher airspacewas to be reopened from 6pm last night.

Belgium: Brussels Airlines cancelled all flights until noon tomorrow.

The Netherlands: All airspace closed until further notice.

Italy: Airspace in northern Italy closed until 6pm last night.

Spain: Iberia cancelled all of its European flights – except those linking Spain with Portugal, south Italy, Greece and Istanbul – until further notice.

Nordics: Airspace in Sweden and Finland closed. Airspace in Denmark closed till at least midnight last night. Airspace in Norway's far north is open.