Image: Stranded passengers
Vittorio Zunino Celotto  /  Getty Images
Passengers wait for a train to depart to Rome at Milano Centrale train station on April 19, in Milan, Italy. Airspace across northern Italy will remain closed until 06.00 GMT on April 20.
By
updated 4/19/2010 4:44:28 PM ET 2010-04-19T20:44:28

Frustrated European travelers stranded overseas struggled to find alternate routes home, desperate for information on flights into the continent's few airports not closed by a dangerous cloud of ash from an Icelandic volcano.

Flights into Rome, Athens and Madrid became the new hot ticket at many international airports Sunday — but after three days of travel disruptions, the backlog of passengers meant many faced waiting lists of days, even weeks.

"We'll take any flight to Europe," said Dirk Maertens, 52, slumped against a railing at Bangkok's international airport alongside his wife and 16-year-old son.

The Maertens slept on plastic seats at the airport Saturday night after their flight home to Belgium was canceled. They planned to camp out again Sunday on the off chance that seats on the already-overbooked Thai Airways flight into Rome might open up.

"When there is a flight, you have to be quick — you have to get on it, you can't be too far away," said Claire Maertens, 49, explaining why the family won't leave the airport.

Video: For Europe travelers, it's man vs. nature "It's so strange," she said. "One volcano, and the whole of Europe is down."

Modern Europe has never seen such a travel disruption. Millions of passengers have had plans foiled or delayed. Around the world, anxious passengers have told stories of missed weddings, business deals and holidays because of the ominous plume, which could damage airplane engines.

Some carriers, like Australia's Qantas, put passengers up in hotels, but many did not, offering instead only to refund tickets or exchange them for later flights.

Dubai-based Emirates airline, the Middle East's biggest carrier, said it was losing $10 million a day, including an estimated $1 million a day just to provide hotels and meals to more than 5,000 passengers who were in transit when flights were canceled last week.

Russia's Foreign Ministry was organizing round-the-clock consular services to arrange 72-hour visas for foreign passengers stuck at Moscow's three airports, Transportation Minister Igor Levitin said in a televised meeting.

While some airlines in Europe resorted to temporarily laying off staff to cope with lost revenue, Asian companies tried to find ways to keep as many flights as possible running.

  1. Don't miss these Travel stories
    1. Lords of the gourd compete for Punkin Chunkin honors

      With teams using more than 100 unique apparatuses to launch globular projectiles a half-mile or more, the 27th annual World Championship Punkin Chunkin event is our pick as November’s Weird Festival of the Month.

    2. Airports, airlines work hard to return your lost items
    3. Expert: Tourist hordes threaten Sistine Chapel's art
    4. MGM Grand wants Las Vegas guests to Stay Well
    5. Report: Airlines collecting $36.1B in fees this year

Thai Airways, which said the disruption was costing it 100 million baht ($3 million) per day, was encouraging passengers whose flights from Bangkok were canceled to travel instead to airports in southern Europe that are still open. The airline scheduled extra flights to Rome and Madrid starting Monday after indefinitely canceling flights to nine other European destinations.

India's Jet Airways rerouted its flights to New York and Toronto via Athens. It was not servicing its routes to London or Brussels, according to airline official A.K. Sivanandan.

Qantas said Sunday that it would continue an abbreviated flight schedule on Monday and Tuesday, allowing flights that would normally go from Australia to Europe via Asian cities to run — but only as far as the Asian stops.

The airline, however, warned passengers not to fly to Asia simply to wait for their connecting European flights to open. But about 1,500 Qantas customers were stuck in Singapore, Bangkok and Hong Kong, spokeswoman Emma Kearns said Sunday. Another 400 international customers were stranded in Australia, she said.

Travelers stranded in New York said it's nervewracking not to know when they can go home. Most of the budget-minded tourists having Sunday breakfast at the Chelsea International Hostel in Manhattan were waiting to learn when travel restrictions would be lifted.

Lyndsey Janes and her husband, Martin, hadn't planned to be in New York at all. They were heading to London after three weeks in Costa Rica when their four-hour stopover at Newark Liberty Airport in New Jersey turned into an indefinite wait.

"It's every day, just waiting," Lyndsey Janes said.

Martin Janes was considering buying a new laptop so he could work, but first they were going shopping for shoes; having planned for Costa Rica, the Janeses had only flip-flops.

Many travelers said the most frustrating part was the lack of information.

In Bangkok, British business manager Chris Coomber stood in a long line at the Emirates counter. He and his wife have been stranded in Thailand since Friday, and they've been told the first flight available isn't until April 29.

"It hasn't been handled well by the airlines," said Coomber, 53, a business development manager from Bournemouth, England. He complained the airline had only one computer and staff member at its information counter, while empty check-in stations were still staffed.

"It's a natural phenomenon. There's not much you can do about it," he said of the volcano. "But I feel badly about how it's been organized, the lack of information and the way the airlines have treated the people who can't get back home."

His schoolteacher wife, Barbara, was eager to get back to her class — a substitute will cost her school 250 pounds ($385) a day, she fretted. But she was more understanding of the airport confusion.

"It's never happened before," she said. "So of course, no one knows how to cope."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Volcanic eruption in Iceland

loading photos...
  1. Stranded British citizens wait beside the Pride of Bilbao Ferry, at Santurtzi, northern Spain, before the trip back to Britain Wednesday, April 21. (Alvaro Barrientos / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A passenger jet flies over houses as it prepares to land at Heathrow Airport, London, U.K. Flights returned to Europe's skies in greater numbers Wednesday after the chaos caused by ash blown from an erupting Icelandic volcano. (Ben Stansall / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Tourists who were evacuated by the Belgian Army hug relatives as they arrive in Zaventem airport, Belgium. (Dirk Waem / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Passengers rest as they wait for their delayed flights at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, India. The International Air Transport Association says disruptions to European air travel caused by the volcanic ash cloud have cost the industry at least $1.7 billion. (Gurinder Osan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A wounded soldier is carried from a C-17 transport plane to an ambulance after it arrived at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., carrying 20 wounded soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan, on Tuesday, April 20. Volcanic ash in the airspace over Europe prevented the U.S. military from flying battlefield wounded to an Air Force hospital in Germany. (Cliff Owen / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. French citizens Mercedes and Jimmy Elahcene sit together in John F. Kennedy International Airport, Tuesday, in New York City. Stranded since Saturday, they said they do not have enough money for a hotel. (Mario Tama / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Jon Oscar Bjorgvinnossen drags a stressed and stubborn sheep across ash covered ground to a barn on the Berjanes farm near the town of Hvolsvollur, Iceland on Tuesday. The ash has contaminated the farm's grazing land making it necessary to evacuate all animals. (Carolyn Kaster / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Relatives of passengers wave to a Lufthansa airplane as it takes off from the airport in Duesseldorf, Germany, on Tuesday, headed for Chicago. Travel chaos in Europe began to ease as some countries resumed flights after days of closures due to volcanic ash clouds from Iceland. (Volker Hartmann / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. People greet family members at Tegel airport in Berlin after they returned from Palma de Mallorca on one of the first flights bringing passengers back to Germany on April 20. (Thomas Peter / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. A member of the German Air Traffic Control center crisis management group points at a map showing the current air traffic in the sky over Germany near Frankfurt on Tuesday, April 20. The Eurocontrol air traffic agency in Brussels said it expects 55 to 60 percent of flights over Europe to go ahead Tuesday, a marked improvement over the last few days. By midmorning, 10,000 of Europe's 27,500 daily flights were scheduled to go. (Marius Becker / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. An aircraft of Air Berlin approaches Tegel airport in Berlin on April 20. Frustrated by the days-long grounding, both Lufthansa and Air Berlin began flying without full air-traffic control. (Gero Breloer / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Passengers sleep at the T4 Barajas airport, in Madrid, Spain, on April 20. Spain offered to let Britain and other European countries use its airports as stopovers to get passengers stranded by the volcanic ash cloud traveling again by train, bus and ferry. (Daniel Ochoa de Olza / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Kaylian Vanhadenhoven, 13, of Belgium, offers bread and jam to other stranded passengers at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on April 20, as many passengers traveling to and from Europe were still stuck due to canceled flights. (Seth Wenig / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Ash and smoke bellow from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano near Hella, Iceland, on Tuesday, April 20. (Emmanuel Dunand / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. A technician takes a photograph of an engine on a Lufthansa aircraft at Tegel airport in Berlin, on April 20. (Gero Breloer / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. An Icelandic farmer clears ash from a goat house after heavy ash billowing from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano covered this farm in Steinar, Iceland, on April 20. (Emmanuel Dunand / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. A British family prepares to board the Royal Navy warship HMS Albion at Santander's port, northern Spain, on April 20. (Alvaro Barrientos / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. A woman hugs her boyfriend as he arrives at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam on April 20. (Toussaint Kluiters / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. When the Eyjafjallajökull Volcano began erupting on March 20, the first lava to erupt came from vents on the lower slopes of the volcano, which were snow-covered, but not under the mountain’s year-round ice cap. Lava flows filled gullies and built mounds of frothy rock, and they melted and vaporized the winter snow, creating relatively small steam plumes. In mid-April, however, the character of the eruption changed dramatically, and this natural-color satellite image from April 17 provides a look at the new eruptive phase. A cloud of charcoal-brown ash covers half the image. A fresh plume of ash rises over the summit, its southern face illuminated by sunlight and its northern face deeply shadowed. The ash column casts a tall shadow onto the snow-covered ground to the north. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Huw Thomas, of England, eats his breakfast in his cot at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, Monday, April 19. Thomas and his family were originally supposed to fly back to England from a vacation in New York on Friday, April 16, but now they are unsure of when they'll be able to return home. (Seth Wenig / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Molten lava shoots out of an erupting volcano near Eyjafjallajokull, on April 19. An Icelandic volcano that has grounded planes across Europe is spitting lava but less ash, officials said on Monday, offering travellers hope that skies might clear at a faster rate. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. A passenger rests on her belongings in the departures area at Madrid's Barajas airport on April 19. (Sergio Perez / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Passengers wait for a train to depart to Rome at Milano Centrale train station on April 19 in Milan, Italy. Passengers are looking for alternative routes to return home after days of disruption in air travel as volcanic ash continues to fill the atmosphere over Europe. (Vittorio Zunino Celotto / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Ash covers an evacuated farm as smoke and ash from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano block daylight on April 19, near Porvaldseyri. (Emmanuel Dunand / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. A couple sleeps at Gatwick airport in southern England on April 19. (Carl Court / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. A stranded passenger waits with her luggage at Termini train station in Rome on April 19. (Pier Paolo Cito / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. A man crosses an empty departures hall at Gatwick airport in southern England on April 19. (Carl Court / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Iceland's Eyjafjallajoekull volcano continues to erupt in this image released on Sunday, April 18. The eruption has caused havoc with air travel across Europe and forced hundreds of locals to evacuate their homes. (Ragnar Th Sigurdsson / www.arctic-images.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. A National Geographic film crew sets up on southern Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull glacier after landing close to the volcano on April 18. Scientists say that because the volcano is situated below the glacial ice cap, magma is being cooled quickly, causing explosions and plumes of grit. (Reynir Petursson / Helicopter.is / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Farmer Bjarni Thorvaldsson pulls volcanic ash off a barn roof on April 18. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Volcanic ash mixes with water, sliding down a barn roof near Eyjafjallajokull on April 18. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. A passenger waits at Bilbao airport in northern Spain on April 18, after all flights were canceled due to the ash. (Alvaro Barrientos / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Synchronized ice skating coaches Danka Durasevic, right, and sisters Sara and Sandra Perl, all from Croatia, look for a cab that will fit all their luggage in New York on April 18. They were among the thousands of visitors stranded in the U.S. due to the ash. (Seth Wenig / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. A cloud of ash looms over a farm on April 17. (Ingolfur Juliusson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Dairy farmer Berglind Hilmarsdottir of Nupur, Iceland, looks for cattle lost in ash clouds on April 17. (Brynjar Gauti / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Ranchers corral cattle in Nupur as volcanic ash swirls around them on April 17. (Brynjar Gauti / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Volcanic ash is seen over Iceland´s main ring road near Skogar, east of the eruption on April 17. (Brynjar Gauti / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. A plane flies past smoke from the volcano on April 17. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. A traveler watches a giant board announcing canceled flights at the Charles de Gaulle airport near Paris on April 17. Three airports in Paris and 23 others across the country were closed because of the cloud of ash. (Thomas Coex / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. Two flight controllers in Belgrade, Serbia, chat after the closing of airspace over Serbia April 17. (Alexa Stankovic / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. Travelers rest at the deserted Austrian Airlines terminal at the Vienna airport after all flights were grounded on April 17. (Leonhard Foeger / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Train passengers crowd the Milan railway station in Italy on April 17. Europeans are turning to different modes of transportation with so many flights grounded. (Luca Bruno / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. Cars line up at a departure point at the car ferry terminal in Calais, France, on April 17. Ferry operators in Britain received a flurry of bookings from people desperate to cross the English Channel to France, while London taxi company Addison Lee said it had received requests for journeys to cities as far away as Paris, Milan, Amsterdam and Zurich. (Michel Spingler / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. A reddish sky at sunrise hangs over Budapest, Hungary, on April 17 as ash spewed by Iceland's Eyjafjallajoekull volcano reaches across Europe. (Gyula Czimbal / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. Horses graze as a cloud of volcanic matter rises from the erupting Eyjafjallajokull volcano, on Friday, April 16, in Fimmvorduhals, Iceland. (Nordicphotos / Getty Images Contributor) Back to slideshow navigation
  46. Passengers rest on cots as they wait for the resumption of air travel on April 16 at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany. (Torsten Silz / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  47. Passengers wait in a terminal in Frankfurt on April 16. (Michael Probst / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  48. Passengers wait for transportation to Gatwick Airport after arriving in Glasgow, Scotland on April 16. (Jeff J. Mitchell / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  49. Ground staff place a protective cover on the engines of an aircraft at Belfast City Airport in Northern Ireland on April 16. (Peter Muhly / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  50. A ground stewardess of Air France/KLM distributes croissants to would-be travellers at Vienna's Schwechat airport on April 16. (Hans Klaus Techt / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  51. Check-in counters are closed at the airport in Duesseldorf, Germany, on April 16. (Oliver Berg / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  52. A plume of volcanic ash from Iceland, top left, streams eastward on April 15. (NEODAAS, University of Dundee via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  53. Volcanic scientists leave the area after collecting samples of ash in eastern Iceland on April 15. (Omar Oskarsson / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  54. Passengers wait at the departures area at Madrid Airport in Spain on April 15. (Andrea Comas / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  55. Smoke and steam hang over the volcano in Iceland early April 15. Ash from the eruption is drifting into other countries in northern Europe and forcing the cancellation of hundreds of flights. (Brynjar Gauti / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  56. A sign at England's Luton Airport warns passengers of flight delays and cancellations on April 15, after Britain's Civil Aviation Authority grounded all non-emergency flights. (Matt Dunham / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  57. A farmer took this picture of the Eyjafjöll volcano shortly after its most recent eruption on April 14.
    View two versions of this image in PhotoBlog and discuss which you prefer. (Olafur Eggertsson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  58. Glacier melt from the erupton flooded areas along this river on April 14. (Icelandic Coast Guard via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  59. A plume of ash and steam rises in Iceland on April 14. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  60. Rescue teams evacuate residents from rapidly rising waters near the volcano on April 14. (Halldor Kolbeins / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  61. A plume of steam from the volcano rises 22,000 feet on April 14. (Icelandic Coast Guard via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  62. The eruption melted ice on the glacier around the volcano, flooding local areas on April 14. Hundreds of residents were evacuated. (Icelandic Coastguard via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  63. Rivers of lava flow from a volcanic eruption between the Myrdalsjokull and Eyjafjallajokull glaciers on March 24. (Helen Maria Bjornsd / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  64. A helicopter flies in front of lava shooting from a volcanic eruption between the Myrdalsjokull and Eyjafjallajokull glaciers on March 24. (Helen Maria Bjornsd / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  65. Tourists gather to watch lava spurting from the site of a volcanic eruption at the Fimmvorduhals volcano near the Eyjafjallajokull glacier on March 27. (Halldor Kolbeins / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  1. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  2. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  3. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  4. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments