European Airlines Enter Third Stage of Grief In Trying to Cope with Volcano

Poor European airline execs. They’ve suffered a great (revenue) loss and now they’re trying to cope with the pain. It looks like they’ve made it to the third stage European Airline Depressionout of five when it comes to coping with grief, but that means the toughest one (depression) lies ahead. Even though flights are finally getting back in the air, the loss will still weigh heavily for some time to come.

If you guys need help, reach out to your US-based counterparts. Those who were around during September 11 know the pain all too well. Let’s review how this works.

  1. Denial
    When airlines first realized that the volcanic ash had a bullseye on Europe, they took it in stride. A few flights were canceled and it looked like any other large weather event. Sure it would have an impact, but it wouldn’t be that bad, right? They just figured it would go away and everything would be fine. If only that were true.
  2. Anger
    As the shut down dragged on and on, airlines started to get angry at anyone they could. The wrath wasn’t directed at the volcano but rather at European aviation authorities. For example, a Lufthansa spokesperson said:

    The flight ban, made on the basis just of computer calculations, is resulting in billion-high losses for the economy.
    In future we demand that reliable measurements are presented before a flying ban is imposed.

    For many, this will be a welcome lambasting, but to me it seems somewhat irrational. We have plenty of examples of ash really messing things up in the past so why take chances? Even now, there are military aircraft with serious ash damage from flying around in this stuff. Sounds like some execs are just lashing out. It’s all part of the process.

  3. Bargaining
    Now that the ash seems to be lifting and the airlines are seeing the financial damage rolling in, it’s time for the bargaining phase. British Airways is leading the charge with CEO Willie Walsh saying this:

    To assist us with this situation, European airlines have asked the EU and national governments for financial compensation for the closure of airspace.

    He then added, “If you can kick a little in for that strike a couple weeks ago, that’d be pretty sweet.”

  4. Depression
    We haven’t moved beyond the bargaining phase yet, but I think we can assume this is what’s coming next. After the adrenalin stops pumping and the final loss numbers roll in, a general depression will hit the European industry execs. They’ll be hurting badly and many will think about just grounding the fleet and being done with it all. Stay strong; you’ll get through it.
  5. Acceptance
    Finally, the execs will simply realize that this is the way it is. There’s no stopping Eyjafjallajökull and its ash-blowing, revenue-destroying power. The financial damage is done and the airlines will simply need to learn that there is no changing what happened. They need to realize that it’s not their fault that this happened. It’s just something that they need to accept and move on.

If you see an airline exec wandering aimlessly around the halls of the airport, give ’em a pat on the back and remind that that it’s not their fault. They’ll get through this, with your help. (Oh, and with the help of large bonuses.)

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“If you guys need help, reach out to your US-based counterparts. Those who were around during September 11 know the pain all too well.” Wasn’t just US-based carriers who were hurting then, though, was it Cranky? I spoke with a friend of mine yesterday who is a BA A319/20/21 captain and simulator instructor, and he said he’d be happy to fly in the current conditions. The data he’s seen from the BA test flight he said didn’t indicate an issue – the NATO F-16 reports aren’t clear as to what ‘significant’ damage was done. Whilst accepting safety should always be… Read more »

Reality Check

>>the NATO F-16 reports aren’t clear as to what ’significant’ damage was done. As do many pilots spring-loaded to the GO mode often do, your BA pilot buddy misses the point–there *was* damage done, and irrespective of whether it was “significant”, “severe”, or “minor” damage, there is no official tolerance for ash damage–YOU DON”T RISK FLYING IN IT. Have the past BA and KLM 747 incidents taught us nothing? There’s another important point that pilots, management, industry trade folks, and Customers should keep in mind, and that is that there still isn’t a good way to quantify an accident that… Read more »


My worry is the knock on effect of this situation. There are so many unknowns that for anyone considering booking a flight for a trip in the next few months they must surely be now thinking twice and holding off any non-essential travel. The current losses for these companies could be the start of a double dip airline recession, especially for EU carriers. There are clearly also knock on effects for the economy at large.


Anger and Bargaining were planned together. The strategy was to frame the governments as the bad guy, so as to justify demands for bailouts. If simply Mother Nature were the bad guy, the bailout demand would be a bit harder. I’m curious whether any airlines are insured against this sort of disruption, or if they try but the insurance companies refuse. Do airlines have insurance against acts of terrorism against them directly? Acts of terrorism affect them indirectly by shutting down the airspace for a week? Against acts of nature that shut down airspace?

David SF eastbay

Your last line said it all. They may be hurting, but you won’t see the heads of the airlines giving up their big salary packages to help. They will just do the normal thing of trying to take money and benefits away from the workers.

I was wondering yesterday how many airlines are willing to get back in the air and will worry later about what damage inside the engines may occur from any amount of ash that gets inside.

Ryan M.
Ryan M.

Seeing Kübler-Ross’s stages of coping applied to the airline industry made my day. Sheer brilliance, Cranky.


“No amount of ash is safe” is a ridiculous statement. I suspect there are always traces of ash in the atmosphere. There’s a safe level and there’s an unsafe level, as with so many things in life.

Just askin'

OK, you’re in day IMC or night IMC conditions—how do you avoid the ash under those circumstances?


How is that level measured, and what is it?

The Global Traveller

You’ve left out step 3b – bullying. The actions taken by several European airlines in the past few days is tantamount to bullying regulators and politicians to reopen skies. In spite of some recent evidence of engine damage to a few aircraft, the bullying seems to be working. UK airports reopen shortly.

Is safety being compromised in Europe?

Stephen Dutton

What would they be doing if half of the fleet’s engines suddenly turned to cheese!…at 42’000 ft

Nick Barnard

Making a cheese sandwich. It’d probably be the first meal served on Ryanair.


If I were the European governments, I’d say “fine, you want to fly, you’re on your own.” Make them sign a waiver. Then they’d have no one to blame but themselves if they destroyed several aircraft engines or worse yet – put the flying public in danger. I’d love to see them ask for a bailout then!


Just got a report from a no-longer-stranded traveler who made it onto the first flight out of Heathrow this morning (London–Tel Aviv on British Airways). Apparently the flight was only 67% full, because it had been previously canceled and then reinstated, and British did not proactively seek passengers to fill up this flight; the only passengers were those who heard the news after midnight and then went and rebooked themselves, and apparently that wasn’t quite enough to fill a 777. At the time my contact rebooked for this flight, flights to Tel Aviv were all booked solid through Saturday or… Read more »

f9 ohio

I hope BA and anyone else in the complaint department ruins the entire fleets engines by the end of the month, just hopefully not any planes or passangers lives in the process. As far as bailouts go, the govornment should pass down that phrase we are taught at airline birth and hit the execs with, ” I appologize, I understand, but weather is an act of god, and we don’t compensate for that”


The best part is that the first airline boss to beg for government money was Joachim Hunold of Air Berlin. Air Berlin fights unions and regulation wherever and whenever it can, and now it really was the first airline to demand tax money.

Joachim, if you want the free market, dude, then you should have the guts to keep your mouth shut when phase #3 (bargaining) starts or at least wait in line behind Lufthansa who probably isn’t too fond of unions either, but at least is more willing to accept their employees being part of unions.


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[…] Airlines Enter Third Stage of Grief. Meanwhile, the Cranky Flier Blog has sarcastically noted the five stages of grief for airline executives: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and […]