In London, air passengers desperately hope for departures
Passengers from around the world dozed on floors and huddled in blankets at London's Heathrow airport Wednesday, still waiting to get home after days of misery even after the flight ban was lifted.
Many were bleary-eyed after arriving on flights from the United States and were desperately hoping to complete their journeys as the skies over Europe re-opened after the volcanic ash cloud from Iceland cleared.
Veronique David, a 42-year-old nurse from France, sat wrapped in a green blanket in Heathrow’s Terminal Five, listing all the places she had spent the last five nights while stranded in San Francisco after a sightseeing visit.
“It has certainly been an unforgettable journey. We had two nights in a hotel paid by British Airways, then one in a hotel paid for by the travel company, then we had to pay for one ourselves,” she told AFP.
“We also spent one night on our feet in San Francisco airport, just hoping for news of flights.”
She and the group of 30 French tourists travelling with her had been starting to wonder if they would ever be able to get back to Europe.
“Then last night we were flown to London, and when we got here they gave us a blanket, a rolled-up sleeping mat and a small bottle of water. Personally I’d have preferred a shower,” she added.
She and 30 French tourists travelling with her were trying to keep each other’s spirits up, but the strain was starting to show on their weary faces.
“I just hope we can get back to Paris today, because this has been a real ordeal,” she said, with a tired smile.
As a British Airways 747 could be seen rising into the skies through the terminal’s windows — one of the first for almost a week — Australian tourist Ray Swanson counted the cost of an forced stay in London’s notoriously expensive hotels.
Ray, a 49-year-old general manager from Melbourne, and his wife Linda, 48, had been preparing to fly to Rome last week with British Airways when flights were suddenly halted, throwing their month-long tour of Europe into chaos.
“We have had to pay for four nights in hotels in London, at inflated prices. I reckon it has cost us an extra 2,000 Australian dollars (1,860 US dollars, 1,400 euros).
“The airlines have not handled this well at all. They keep referring you to the the Internet, which is crazy because travellers have limited access to the Internet.
“And the whole focus of today’s effort seems to be to get the Brits home instead of getting other people out of here.”
The Swansons could hardly believe their luck — they were stranded in this very terminal when it opened two years ago and baggage handling hitches caused massive disruption.
“I think we certainly won’t be coming back to Europe in a rush now,” Ray said. “We’re just hoping we can get out to Rome today and salvage what we can, even though we have now lost a week of tours and visits there.”
Risto Tirronen and his family were rolling up their sleeping mats after a night spent on the floor of the terminal. The Finnish businessman had abandoned any hope of a flight home and had settled instead for a marathon bus ride.
“We managed to sleep for a few hours but now there are no planes today for us. Instead, the Finnish embassy has organised buses for us to Stockholm and we will then catch a ferry to Finland,” he said.
“The journey will probably take us 24 hours, and the bus will cost us hundreds of pounds each.
“But what can we do? That’s life. No one could have predicted this would happen. It was truly exceptional.”