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Iceland's Volcanic Ash: Will Airline Travel Become a Nightmare Again?

Icelandair flight
OK, the rapture didn't happen this weekend, but another volcano did erupt in Iceland, and an ash cloud is heading towards Europe. How will this affect travel?

A little more than a year ago, an ash cloud from an Icelandic volcano closed airspace and seriously disrupted air travel. Could that happen again?

Probably not. For many economies, the volcano and that ash cloud served as a major wake-up call to the rest of the world â€" especially the U.S. â€" as to the power and importance of travel and transportation.

Many economies were on the brink. All because the governments of the EU, exercising an abundance of caution, had ruled the airspace closed in the face of that cloud. At the time, 63,000 flights were grounded.

What did business travelers do? They took long bus trips south from London to Madrid (a 19-hour trek) to fly from Spain. Or they took equally long ferry rides to Portugal to catch their flights.

But the economic power of travel and transportation finally took precedence over European airspace regulations, when then British Airways CEO Willie Walsh decided to essentially break the rules. He ordered a number of his planes into the air from the U.S., headed for London.

Then he put the word out: "I'm flying into Heathrow, and if my planes land without incident, then we're going to start flying tomorrow morning." He challenged the regulators, he flew the planes, they landed safely, and the airspace miraculously opened.

Now, the volcanic ash has caused European airline stocks to take a tumble and we have another potential airspace closure. The ash cloud from Iceland is now off the coast ofScotland, and there are government officials claiming they may soon be considering closing the airspace above the EU countries again.

Don't count on it. While Icelandic authorities did close their international airport on Sunday, the rest of Europe is not exactly racing to follow suit. They learned an extremely expensive lesson last year. For business travelers, it should mean business as usual.

And yes, while Eurocontrol (the air traffic control organization) is saying it is "monitoring" the situation, there's a high probability that this year, monitoring means advising airlines of alternate sky routes and altitudes to circumvent the cloud, not closing airspace entirely.

Only one Scottish airline, Loganair, has announced that it has canceled all services with the exception of our inter-isles flights in Orkney.

Icelandair is waiving cancellation and rebooking fees for those affected by Sunday's airport closure in Reykjavik. Keflavik airport is expected to be re-opened by 6 p.m. Icelandic time on Monday and Icelandair's flights are expected to resume normal operations by May 24.

Anyone booked on either of these airlines should contact the airline directly for the latest information on closures and refunds, but note that there may be long wait times.


Photo credit: Icelandair
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