Volcano Decides to Halt European Flights Since Nobody is Striking This Week

It’s a rare week when there isn’t a strike at a European airline, but this appears to be one of them. Unhappy with this news, a big, mean volcano in Iceland called Eyjafjallajokull (strangely enough, pronounced simply as “Billy”) decided to start erupting. Thanks to the prevailing winds, many European airports are shut down until the ash cloud passes. Ugh.

Iceland Volcano Eruption

Ash, in case you didn’t know, is like kryptonite for airplanes. No, it has nothing to do with reduced visibility as you might expect. That type of flying happens all the time. The problem is that the ash roughs up airplanes and has an unfortunate side effect of making engines stop running. So yes, it’s a good thing that air traffic has come to a halt. I’m just waiting to see how some lazy journalist finds a way to pin this on the airlines.

All London airports were shut down yesterday as were those up in Scandinavia. Airports on the continent starting shutting down a little later on as the ash cloud continued to move toward the southeast. The funny thing here is that Icelandic air traffic is largely unaffected because the winds are blowing the ash away.

So what exactly happens when an airplane flies into ash? It’s not good. There have been two very high profile incidents, both in the ’80s before they apparently realized that they should avoid flying into ash clouds at all costs.

The first was on British Airways in 1982. A 747 was on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Perth when it flew through a cloud of ash at 37,000 feet. The engines apparently weren’t so happy with that so they all shut down and the plane became a glider. Once they got below the ash, they were able to get the engines restarted, though not before they reached 13,000 feet. Yeah, it was a long and scary glide down. They landed safely in Jakarta.

The second was on KLM’s ever-popular (or not) Amsterdam to Anchorage route. They thought they were flying into a normal cloud at 25,000 feet, but, um, it was ash. The engines all quit and they started heading down. The first engines came back at 13,000 feet and they again landed safely. In both cases, there was some serious damage to the airplane.

Come to think of it, maybe this is the airlines’ fault. They wouldn’t have to cancel all these flights if they were just willing to fly at 13,000 feet all the way around, right? Or they could just climb to cruising altitude and sell it as a weightless adventure when they plunge 20,000 feet before getting the engines restarted. I think they might be missing out here.

Really, this is frustrating for everyone. The airlines are losing a ton of money while passengers get stuck. And the worst part? You can’t even see the ash cloud from the ground, so people are going to have a tougher time understanding why their flight is grounded. On top of that, they don’t know when the thing is going to move on. Sheesh.

If you’re flying to or from Europe this weekend, bring a lot of patience. It’s going to be a tough one.

[Original Photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kimon/ / CC BY-SA 2.0 and http://www.flickr.com/photos/cdelriccio/ / CC BY-SA 2.0]

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46 Comments on "Volcano Decides to Halt European Flights Since Nobody is Striking This Week"

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Simon
Guest

I’ve been amazed (in the UK) by how responsible our press has been on this one – they’ve just quietly got on with it in a calm and reasonable fashion. Maybe they’re all too busy on the election reporting (“Planes grounded by ash as leaders clash” was The Sun’s way of linking the two). Gives them all an excuse to dig out the “All of our engines have failed” stories for a new generation…

Bobber
Guest

Responsible, apart from taking an age to even consider the local inhabitants welfare who might be affected by the eruption – our right to fly comes first.

Jason Steele
Guest

Here is a tip for you and your readers Cranky. Check out the book Emergency: Crisis in the Cockpit by Stanley Stewart. It covers the Pan Am incident, and a dozen others in fascinating detail. You won’t be able to put it down. Extra bonus points for attracting stares if you read it while you are in the air!

David
Guest

You can find forecasts of the ash cloud (updated every 6 hours) at
http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/aviation/vaac/vaacuk_vag.html

NATS who run airspace are at
http://www.nats.co.uk

David SF eastbay
Member

At least people in Europe can still use trains and ferrys to get around if they really need to.

Doesn’t this effect transatlantic flights to southern europe also. Since so many carriers use two engine aircraft, just how far south can they fly to still comply with ETOPS and avoid the ash?

pennifer
Guest

You had me at the headline. I don’t travel anywhere near as much as I used to, so technically there’s no good reason I should be following your blog. Must be all the great writing and great information. Thanks!

Oh, and this volcano had better get its act in order before I have to fly through Europe this summer.

Brian Lusk
Guest

CF
Volcanic ash is one of the nastiest things I have ever encountered. I transferred to PDX with Delta in May 1980, and got into town the weekend that Mt. St. Helens blew up. Although the ash from the huge eruption didn’t affect PDX, later ones did. The inside of the cab of our jet bridge had ash in all the little crevices and slits, and even 10 years later, you could feel the grit of the ash inside the cab.
Brian

bellsmyre
Guest

Ash over Iceland – USA cut off from Europe..

robert
Guest

“All London airports were shut down yesterday…”

To be precise, all airspace over the UK was closed so it affected more than just London. There is more to the UK than just the capital.

Alex
Guest

Do you have a lot of CC clients stuck? Surely this is the “perfect storm” for CC, certainly time to prove your value?

daren_siddall
Member

As someone who has planes taking off from LHR passing over my house every day, it is so weird to see the skies so empty. It is oddly quiet. I do fear though what impact this will have on the airlines here in the UK, especially if the volcano keeps active for a significant length of time, and the winds keep coming from the north, which is entirely possible. BA’s share price fell by over 3 percent today. Ryanair just announced that it is canceling all flights until next Monday.

Don
Guest

Know how you feel. My crew and I got stuck in Boston on 9/11. Company put crews in a hotel north of Logan on the shore. We went walking along the shore opposite the airport on day. Could hear the waves lapping against the rocks, the seagulls calling and even smelled the salt air (no Jet A fumes).

john96
Member

Reactions to this sentence: “The funny thing here is that Icelandic air traffic is largely unaffected because the winds are blowing the ash away. ”

Too bad the Chunnel had to stop at the UK.

Would be great if there was any business to be done in Iceland.

Wont the island tip over if too many people stop here?

Califken
Guest

I seem to recall a VC10 or Super VC10 had all 4 engines flame out off China after flying through ash

Andrew
Guest

ROTFL.

Now I know why this is the first website I go to everyday!!!!!

David SF eastbay
Member

Interesting how this will hurt the wallets of the airlines, but help the wallets of many other businesses with people needing hotels, food, taking trains and ferrys where they can, car rentals, and so on down the list of businesses and their suppliers.

David SF eastbay
Member

To bad airplanes can hover. All the jets stranded in North America could flt to the rear edge of the ash cloud and turn around an hover. All that hot exhaust would blow the ash farther along at a faster pace. Hmmmm…..could send our elected officials in Washington there in hot air balloons and their hot exhaust could do the same thing……lol

Tim
Guest

This is a fascinating story. If the eruptions were to continue for months, we could be cut off from northern Europe for a while. It’s amazing this hasn’t happened before in the history of transatlantic air travel (and volcanoes).

malbarda
Member
I was affected as I was due to fly Newark – Amsterdam – Leeds yesterday/this morning. It got cancelled at 2:30 yesterday. I spend 8 hours on the phone as I have a very complicated itinerary as I was due to continue from Manchester on Saturday (tomorrow) to Valencia, Spain via Paris. All of that was cancelled too. And… I am traveling with my almost 9-year-old son who lives in England so I was delivering him back home there, and then continuing on to Valencia. Now, with the help of Heather at Delta’s office on 140 E 45th Street NYC,… Read more »
jaybru
Member
I guess your Dispatcher guest would have some interesting insight as to what goes on in situations like this. I’m sure they earn their money. The airlines, well, at least UA, never seem to disappoint me about the useless ness of their website info on flight status. Looking at the afternoon flank of UA European flights due into IAD today (Fri. the 16th), I see the LHR, BRU, AMS, and FRA flights all cancelled. The GVA flight (975) is shown as having left GVA and scheduled to arrive at IAD pretty much on time. Good for UA. But the ZRH… Read more »
Allen
Guest

No strikes? Isn’t Virgin Blue in Australia facing one right now?

Mike
Guest

I think the irony here is that the only carrier whose trans Atlantic flights are all operating today is Iceland air, since winds are taking all of the ash south.

http://www.icelandair.us/information/media/newslist/announcement/item430280/FLIGHT_DISRUPTIONS_DUE_TO_VOLCANIC_ACTIVITY_IN_ICELAND_/

Mark
Member

Although I like the idea of selling tickets on a 20,000ft glide down, there are some risks (duh). The ash tends to melt into glass-like substance around the fuel nozzles. Then it solidifies (cools), blocking fuel. It’s not a slam-dunk that you can re-start engines once you’re below the ash cloud.

Oliver
Member

Is there a reason why the pilots can’t fly a little bit lower and/or farther to go around these ash clouds?

Nick Barnard
Member

Generally it kills the efficiency of the plane, and there is worse weather at lower altitudes.

Nick Barnard
Member

So doesn’t Open Skies give the airlines a good work around in this instance? Can’t they just launch craploads of flights to Rome or somewhere outside of the plume then tell people to take trains? This seems like a reasonable alternative.

robert
Guest

Doesn’t work if you’re already *in* the plume.

Also, what about the capacity of that other airport? And what about the existing scheduled flights? It would cause almost as much chaos as the volcano has.

Nick Barnard
Member

I’m sure there is some flexibility with the capacity of the other airports. And Airlines have to have some planes not in the US at the moment. I think the real thing that’d kill it would be the deadhead back to the states — asking bunches of people to find their way on a plane to Rome etc isn’t exactly something that’ll happen.

Jason H
Guest

I’d really be interested in seeing what the major carriers are planning/doing to mitigate a continual issue once the ash cloud lifts. Are they moving larger planes into position (UA and DL have some 747s I’m sure)? Are there plans for more planes to clear the backlog? What contingency plans might be in motion to get travelers at least to their destination continent?

K
Guest

Hi Cranky,
Have you considered putting up more than one post a day, the way most active bloggers do? There are SO many things going on in the airline world now (mergers, strikes, rumors of mergers, random weirdness) that I wonder why you limit yourself to one post a day?

Hermann
Guest
Just got off the island after a two day trek. Was scheduled in and out of London on Thursday and welcomed in London by the pilot´s announcement of “Welcome to London. You will be here for a while.” After hanging out at LHR Fri morning and talking to a bored out agent (16hr emergency shift, but no customers) I went on a train to Hull and got one of the last cabins on the Zeebrugge sailing – Eurostar and Dover-Calais were hopelessly overbooked. Interestingly enough, it makes you reconsider the way of travel. On the ferry, I had my own… Read more »
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[…] CrankyFlier looks at why it is not a good idea for airlines to fly into the ash. * Aviation Week’s Things with Wings blog has a satellite photo of the […]

george
Guest

I was on a holiday in Sweden and got stranded in the airport for hours. Still, work has to continue so i started working from my laptop –
I wonder what online tools can help in this situation? I use http://www.verishow.com/ , really useful site for online collaboration.

Micah J. Child
Guest

Is the volcano some thing that would have been covered my most travel insurance polices? If so what kind of help would travelers could expect to receive? I’ve personally purchased 3rd party travel insurance when I go overseas, my credit card (Citi/AA) automatically tacks on a some sort of travel protection plan for a small fee when ever I buy airline tickets with it. And I’ve seen airlines offer protection plans at the time of purchase.

Ron
Guest

What a sight this morning at LAX, coming off the 105 into the Sepulveda tunnel: parked along the southern perimeter were a British Airways 747, a KLM 747, a Lufthansa 747, another widebody I didn’t quite identify, and two Air Tahiti Nui planes. I wonder if they could possibly utilize those birds for some other flying…

mark
Guest

the long term costs regarding actually flying in the vicinity of ash,won’t be readily relised until the engines are overhauled, probably after a premature removal for perf. degradation,stalls(from hp comp erosion)

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[…] Good News: No European Airline is on Strike Right Now. In a separate post, the Cranky Flier Blog sarcastically noted that the volcano decided to shut down European aviation last week simply because no one had decided […]

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