Tales From the Volcano

Now that European airports are open and (as far as I know), no planes have fallen out of the sky, it’s time to look back on the aftermath of the IcCranky vs the Volcanoelandic volcano. We worked on some pretty crazy itineraries at Cranky Concierge, so I thought I’d share some of them with you, because, well, it’s just fun to dork out on itineraries like these.

Perhaps the craziest one we found was one that wasn’t actually used. We had a client, let’s call him Doc, stranded in London when his flight canceled last Monday. Doc had to get to Toronto by Wednesday. So what happened? We came up with this:

*Eurostar from London to Paris Tuesday morning
*TGV from Paris to Irun (at the Spanish Frontier)
*Overnight train from Irun to Lisbon, arriving Wednesday morning
*SATA from Lisbon to Toronto via the Azores on Wednesday afternoon

Anyone ever flown SATA? I’d love to hear what that’s like, but Doc decided not to go and instead just wait it out in London. (He made it out last Friday.)


The very first call we received about the volcano was at 230a PT on Friday, April 16. A new client, his name will be Thor, called from Halifax saying he was heading to New York and then was on Delta to London that afternoon. He fully expected the flight to be canceled, so he asked us to help. (It canceled soon after.) We were able to snag the very last seat on the New York – Keflavik (Iceland) flight that night on Icelandair connecting to Glasgow in the morning. At that point, Glasgow was still open.

Thor made it to Iceland, but the airspace closed in Glasgow before he was able to get there. Fortunately, Icelandair put him up for the first night and paid for his meals. That was far better than he would have received from Delta in New York. Icelandair started to send airplanes anywhere they could fly: they sent several flights to Trondheim, Norway. (And now that Keflavik is impacted by the volcano, they actually just started operating flights via Glasgow instead – amazing flexibility which you can read more about on BNET today.)

Thor didn’t want to mess around with visiting Norway and not having a way to get out of there, so he hung out in Iceland where the high speed internet gave him everything he needed. He spent three nights in Iceland before finally being booked on Tuesday to go to Heathrow. When Heathrow didn’t open, they sent him to Edinburgh and he hopped a train home.


The toughest challenge we faced was a client, we’ll call her Oksana, heading to the first Theatre on Ice world championships being held in Toulouse. She wasn’t going to watch; she was there to compete. When her British Airways flight on Monday canceled, she had to find a way to get there.

After looking at several different options that involved everything from Dubai to Tripoli, we settled on the best option and it wasn’t going to be easy.

Oksana was in San Diego, but she ended up buying a ticket from LA to Tel Aviv on El Al on Wednesday connecting to another El Al flight to Madrid on Thursday. From there, she booked an overnight train from Madrid to Barcelona, arriving Friday morning. Then she would rent a car and drive the 3 hours or so to Toulouse, getting in just in time for her mandatory practice.

Unfortunately, British Airways wasn’t nearly as flexible as Icelandair and refused to simply cancel her outbound and let her keep the return. So we had to find Oksana another return. This one was easy – Swiss from Barcelona to Zurich and then on to LA. Then it would just be a short hop on American down to San Diego.

As you can imagine, this combined option wasn’t cheap (in fact, if you’d like to help defray the additional cost, they’re accepting donations via Paypal to helpctoi@gmail.com), but it got them there, and that was the name of the game throughout this entire couple of weeks.

Now that the backlog is clearing out and airlines are starting add flights, people are finally getting where they need to go. It’s incredible to think about how many special occasions were ruined because people couldn’t get there. These are just a couple stories out of a sea of hundreds of thousands, if not more. Just imagine how many didn’t turn out this well.


17 Responses to Tales From the Volcano

  1. Lou says:

    We were in Paris, finishing up a multi-country european vacation, when this happened. We were supposed to fly out Saturday and were rebooked on Wednesday (CDG-LHR-JFK).

    When that was canceled on Monday we called it quits, rebooked on Avianca (MAD-BOG-JFK) and ran to the rail yards. Unfortunately the trains were all booked to MAD through Wed or Thur (and we had a Monday flight!) We called Hertz (no one ways allowed) and Avis (1000 Euros for a 1 way, and not to Madrid as they weren’t taking French cars).

    We stood in line at the counter to see if there was any other option (drive to Bordeaux, train to Irun, rent again?) and happened to have a gentleman get in line behind us returning a 1 way he just drove from Madrid. We swapped the contract and took off. What luck!

    PS, Columbian security is very, very thorough.

  2. Jamie says:

    Similar story to Lou – took the Eurostar from London to Paris. We were fortunate enough to have reserved a one way rental just before Hertz banned them. They didn’t want to give us the car (in spite of the reservation), but another gentleman was returning a car that he had driven from Madrid. We took that, drove the 12 hours, and took the Iberia flight from MAD to MEX. Then we caught a United flight from MAD to IAD.

  3. Tim says:

    I want your job, Cranky!

  4. Sean O' says:

    If there was ever an advertisement for the usefulness of the Cranky Concierge, it was the Icelandic Volcano Incident.

    Way to go!

  5. This was a case where thinking outside the box could really save your plans. Just think of the thousands of people who just say there waiting for the airlines to tell them what to do.

    That was one thing I learned working for an airline and flying nonrev, was know your airlines routes, know what other airlines you could buy a ID75 discount ticket from at the counter, and most important…to keep moving.

  6. Jeff Sax says:

    I’ve flown SATA in coach direct YYZ-OPO last May. Cheap and direct yes.. good experience no. If I remember correctly it was a 2-class A320 in a 3-4-3 config. The biggest problems were the seat backs were abnormally low. I’m 6’0″ and not overweight and the seat back almost came to the top of my shoulders when I wasn’t slouching, and the leg/knee room was tight as well. The sardine can effect was an issue because of the number of 3-4-3 rows without anything blocking the view, and the entertainment was the old style projection screen every 1/3rd of the way through the cabin with programming in Portuguese with English subtitling.

    It got me there and back, but in future I’d rather take the Air Canada/TAP Portugal route via Madrid or FRA

    • CF says:

      Thanks for the info. This sounds a lot like what I’d expect. Of course, it would have brought them back and that would have been most important, but considering they waited until Friday and flew back in business on BA instead, I think they made the right choice.

  7. Tory says:

    Had a business partner stuck in Paris. Considered the ferry from Denmark to Iceland when the Iceland airport was still open and had plenty of seats to the US (since there were no connecting passengers from Europe), but decided not to. Good thing – Paris opened up soon after and Iceland closed down.

    • CF says:

      Smart move. I looked at that ferry for Thor, and it was a multi-day ferry that didn’t go very often. It also dropped you off on the other side of Iceland, so it would have been an adventure to say the least.

  8. I anything these stories show the need for diversity in transportation methods. Europe was able to manage this much better than say a volcanic cloud over the Northeast US as it has a robust rail system.

    • Tim says:

      Of all the places in the US, funny you mention the Northeast, which, by US standards, actually has the most developed railway system.

      Imagine if this had happened in California, where the only alternatives for long-distance travel (to places where cars are basically impractical, like across the country or across a national border) are one daily, usually late, 8-hours-to-San Francisco train service and, what, a fleet of Greyhound buses.

      I love planes, of course, but the US needs a more diversified transportation infrastructure.

      • Good point Tim. I was thinking more out of the density in the Northeast probably better approximated Europe’s.. But California would be SOL, but the percentage of car ownership there is much higher than elsewhere.

  9. cosy says:

    Yes, that was a black spring in aviation history! Imagine, only for the tree swiss airports there have been canceled over 1000 fligths per day ! Usually we have a well ocupation rate about 75 to over 80 percent. That means there have been over 130 peoples stranded respectively went not able to go away just in our 3 airports (Zurich, Basel, Geneva)!
    The loss for european sky carriers was about 1’000 million Euro per day (1’500 m$).
    Not in count are the losses of companies they could not come. And not counted are all these tickets they have gone worthless because of charter flights. This losses are for the customers they allready payd for before.

    I hope this event was singular and don’t reproduce it. The cause for the shutdown is really unserious studied by ICAO and the mentionned papers from 1993 are not serious. The only theoretical risk has ever been was the smaller cooling rate for the Pads in the hot section in turbines. But the same planes are flying thru the sandstorm just few minutes after with plenty of silicate dust in the air (the sahara dust) and never was this a problem. The mecanics in our flight base seas to me that there have been mor helicopters with engine shutdown due to autumn leaves sucked in the cooling inlet then incidents by dust and ash in the world. But in autumn helicopters still land and take off from forest borders, especially the army..

  10. malbarda says:

    I was supposed to fly JFK – Ams – LBA (that’s Leeds in the North of England) on Thursday April 15 to take my son back to where he lives and goes to school. Arriving the 16th, I would then continue on the 17th with Man – Paris – VLC (that’s Valencia, Spain), where I was to address a conference. Of course none of this happened as planned.

    After many harrowing hours on the phone and in person with Delta, we split the trips as follows. I was to fly to Spain and back directly as Spain was “fully functioning”.

    I flew Delta JFK – MAD on the 17th, connecting to Iberia MAD – VLC. For my return on the 19th I then was booked on Barcelona – Atlanta, connecting to La Guardia. As there were no seats left on the VLC – BCN flight I had to rent a car and drive from Valencia to Barcelona at 5am in the morning to make my 10am departure. This all went more or less without a hitch (apart from the fact that Iberia did not bring my suitcase to VLC on the way in… it arrived 24 hours later).

    In order to bring my son home I then returned to JFK 48 hours after returning from Spain, as Delta had given us JFK – FRA, followed by FRA – AMS and AMS – LBA. Leaving Friday night, we arrived Saturday 2pm. A full week and 2 days later then planned. I turned around Sunday morning starting at 6AM, and flew LBA – AMS, followed by AMS – Minneapolis, and then MSP – LaGuardia. All of this went off without too much trouble as well, apart from the computer systems being down at 5am at LBA and all of us traveling on a hand-written boarding pass from LBA – AMS, and no boarding passes for the connecting flights.

    For me this was not too much of an issue as all I had was hand luggage and had checked in online. I went to the lounge and got “boarding-passed” for the remaining two flights.

    Other passengers with checked luggage were worse off. They had no boarding passes, and only a luggage tag. According to the computer they had not flown to AMS as they were not registered in the computer, and therefore the system deemed them as no shows and had them no longer on their connecting flights. This meant seat reservations had gone to pot and it took quite a bit to get them back on.

    I have to say that Delta were mostly very accomodating to me throughout this whole ordeal. Now, I was not stranded anywhere, and thanks to my Diamond status and the dedicated priority phone-line was never on hold for more then a few minutes. I am sure others were far (FAR) less fortunate.

  11. Chris says:

    Wow, lots of unique routings and airline changes. Too bad you are not being paid in airline safety cards…or are you?

  12. Holidays says:

    We took that, drove the 12 hours, and took the Iberia flight from MAD to MEX. Then we caught a United flight from MAD to.Now, I was not stranded anywhere, and thanks to my Diamond status and the dedicated priority phone-line was never on hold for more then a few minutes. I am sure others were far (FAR) less fortunate.
    **********
    john

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