Saturday, April 17, 2010

Europe: Air Travel Chaos Deepens Into Weekend

The menacing cloud of ash from a volcano in Iceland moved eastward across Northern Europe on Friday, expanding an already massive transportation gridlock and throwing weary travelers into an anxious limbo.

Scientists were uncertain when the cloud would dissipate, as its repercussions rippled far beyond the flight boards at shuttered airports in Europe.

Opera singers and musicians were stranded while trying to make their performances, and perishable foods were stuck in warehouses. Thousands of people unable to travel by air jammed train stations or hired long-haul taxis in a desperate search for alternative ways to reach their destinations. Recreational runners in Europe grew worried they would not be able to reach Boston early Monday in time for the start of the Boston Marathon.

From business meetings to long-planned high school trips to world diplomacy, the ash cloud affected many facets of life. The state funeral of the Polish president, Lech Kaczynski, and his wife was likely to take place as scheduled on Sunday, according to Polish authorities, but it was unclear which international dignitaries would be able to get there.

“I’ve never seen such chaos,” said Erich Klug, 35, a buyer for an auto parts company who was in the Frankfurt airport when it shut down on Friday. Hundreds of people stood in line there to buy train tickets, while others slept on cots as they awaited news of a resumption of air service.

Many of Europe’s major airports — crucial hubs for international travelers and cargo — were still closed on Friday evening, although some airports in Western Europe began to ease restrictions on flights as the volcanic cloud shifted away from them to the east.

The International Air Transport Association, based in Geneva, said Friday that a conservative estimate of the financial damage to the airline industry by the disruptions included more than $200 million a day in lost revenue, and that it did not yet know how much more airlines had spent to re-route planes, care for stranded passengers and park grounded aircraft at airports.

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