Friday, March 23, 2012


Volcano afterthought


I'm confident that almost everyone remembers the travel delays associated with the eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajök volcano in 2010. (You can refresh your memory at and view some dramatic photos at

The bottom line for travelers is that the ash spewed from the eruption grounded flights across much of Europe.

Photo from Wikipedia cited above

At the time I wondered why travelers, particularly business travelers allowed themselves to be "stuck" in one place for several days? There were other transportation options: trains, buses, rental vehicles, with or without chauffeurs.

Some travelers were forced to hunker down wherever they landed because their company's travel policies prohibited independent travel arrangements; others put a limit on expenditures even in an unexpected situation. (The question here is was the eruption really unexpected?

I'm about to book a flight from my home in the US to the Middle East via Europe so the volcano came to mind.

Since I believe in practicing what I preach I starting considering my options. Two options came to mind.

One: Have my airline make arrangements with an airline in southern Europe - Portugal, Spain, or Italy for me to continue to my destination from there using my original ticket - which I would expect my airline to arrange with the alternate airline - and I would take a train to Lisbon (TAP), Madrid (Iberia), or Rome (Alitalia) and my destination county's national carrier if it lands at those cities' airports.

Granted, I'd be out the cost of a train ticket (unless, of course I bought travel interruption insurance), but I would get to my destination reasonably close to my originally scheduled arrival.

Two - and this is to my mind far better - is for the airlines' risk management people to be on the ball and recommend (now) that the airlines have a contingency plan that states, basically, that "In the event aircraft cannot fly north or arrive from the north due to any reason - act of God or otherwise - flights from the south with planned continuations to northern Europe will be turned around to carry passengers to destinations outside the "no fly" zone."

In other words, let's say a plane

  • coming from Rome's Leonardo da Vinci/Fiumicino – FCO
  • bound for Amsterdam's Schiphol airport
  • lands at Paris' Chas. de Gaulle airport,
because it was scheduled to land there or because conditions north of France prevented the flight's continuation.

If the former case, there should be no problem with local laws from turning that aircraft around and substituting it for a cancelled flight from Schiphol.

In the latter case I can see where local laws might get in the way, but with so many inter-airline code sharing, perhaps politics could be put aside and another airline's tickets (e.g., Air France) could be honored by the turned around flight from Rome (e.g., Alitalia).

In my case, let's say I fly to the European city on Flight USA1 to connect with my destination flight ME1. ME1 originates at Gardermoe at Oslo, lands at De Gaulle, and then continues to my Middle East destination.

Eyjafjallajök spews ash into the air and grounds ME1 at Gardermoe.

Meanwhile, ME2, from my destination to Gardermoe via De Gaulle, arrives in Paris.

It cannot continue to Gardermoe, but the airline could turn ME2 around, rename it ME1 and have it return to my destination. The passengers continuing to Oslo would be forced to either find other transportation or enjoy a stay in Paris.

My opinion of the airline, whether it put me on one of its on planes or got me to my destination on another carrier would, like the plane I would be riding, soar to new heights. Even if the alternate airline offered superior service, the good will generated by my original "ME1" carrier might be enough, "all things considered," for me to remain a customer of that airline.

There really are two "bottom lines" to this effort.

Bottom Line 1: Airlines should have risk management plans that consider alternatives to a cavalier attitude of "the passengers be damned" and plan to offer passengers alternatives to waiting in the airport until resumption of "business as usual."

Put the passengers destined for non-impacted areas on other flights. Arrange for passengers to impacted areas to continue - if they choose - via rail, road, or waterway to their destination.

A really image conscious airline would, if it had the information, contact people who might be waiting at the destination that Passengers A, B, and c were OK and would be on flight ME? scheduled to arrive at whatever time.

Bottom Line 2: Passengers should be prepared to find alternative means to their destinations.

The same holds true on the return flight - ME2 to De Gaulle then USA2 home.

If De Gaulle is closed due to - pick a reason - let USA1 divert to, say, Lisbon's Portela.

Since my ME2 flight to De Gaulle is cancelled, let the airline book me via Portela to connect with USA1 on its return to the States as USA2.

North-bound travelers can find alternative transportation; others can make their connections from Lisbon.

True story. Flying one January from Philadelphia to Ely NV via Salt Lake City UT. The airline decided it would not or could not continue to Ely, some 250 miles away so it crowed the 8 passengers bound for Ely into a stretch taxi that lacked an efficient heater - translation: we all wore heavy coats, further compacting the passengers.

None of us appreciated the airline's decision but since it was then the only air option in and out of Ely, we were "stuck." The airline eventually abandoned Ely and a smaller, more reliable, service took its place.

If I wrote it, you may quote it.

Longer articles at

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