Some European flights take off; London still shut
PARIS – Applause, cheers and whoops of joy rang out at airports around the world Tuesday as airplanes gradually took to the skies after five days of being grounded by a volcanic ash cloud that has devastated European travel.
But weary passengers might have to tamper their enthusiasm. Only limited flights were allowed to resume at some European airports and U.K. authorities said London airports — a major hub for thousands of daily flights worldwide — would remained closed for at least another day due to new danger from the invisible ash cloud.
And with over 95,000 flights canceled in the last week alone, airlines face the enormous task of working through the backlog to get passengers where they want to go — a challenge that certainly will take days.
Still, in airport hubs that have been cauldrons of anxiety, anger and sleep deprivation, Tuesday marked a day of collective relief.
The boards at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport announcing long-distance flights — which had been streaked with red "canceled" signs for five days — filled up with white "on time" signs Tuesday and the first commercial flight out since Thursday left for New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport.
"We were in the hotel having breakfast, and we heard an aircraft take off. Everybody got up and applauded," said Bob Basso of San Diego, who has been staying in a hotel near Charles de Gaulle since his flight Friday was canceled.
"There’s hope," he said. Basso, 81, and his son have tickets for a flight to Los Angeles later Tuesday.
At New York’s JFK, the first flight from Amsterdam in days arrived Monday night.
"Everyone was screaming in the airplane from happiness," said passenger Savvas Toumarides, of Cyprus, who missed his sister’s New York wedding after getting stranded in Amsterdam last Thursday. He said the worst part was "waiting and waiting and not knowing."
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.
"The situation today is much improved," said Brian Flynn, deputy head of operations at the Brussels-based agency. "The outlook is that bit by bit, normal flights will be resumed in coming days."
The agency predicted close to normal takeoffs by Friday.
Still, an international pilots group warned that ash remains a danger and meteorologists say Iceland’s still-erupting volcano isn’t ready to rest yet, promising more choked airspace and flight delays to come.
Ash that had drifted over the North Sea from the volcano in southern Iceland was being pushed back over Britain on Tuesday by shifty north winds, Icelandic scientists said.
"It’s a matter of wind directions. The volcano’s plume is quite low actually, still below 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) near the volcano," said Gudrun Nina Petersen, meteorologist at the Icelandic Met Office.
A Eurocontrol map showing the ash cloud on Tuesday listed the airspace between Iceland and Britain and Ireland as a no-fly zone, along with much of the Baltic Sea and surrounding area. The ash cloud also spread westward from Iceland, toward Greenland and Canada’s eastern coastline.
The volcano in southern Iceland is still spewing smoke and lava, but the ash plume is lower than it previously was, posing less threat to high-flying aircraft.A