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Travellers seek ways to get home

With flights grounded all over Europe, stranded holidaymakers and business travellers sought any means possible yesterday to get home - or contented themselves with just staying put.

Taxis usually favoured for cross-town journeys offered to cross borders instead. Intercity trains and car ferries were jam-packed.

Strangers became car-pooling buddies at airport rent-a-car counters.

Whereas a typical Saturday would see 22,000 flights in Europe, only 6,000 managed to operate as volcanic ash from Iceland turned much of the continent into a no-fly zone, the air traffic co-ordinating agency Eurocontrol said.

In Turkey, for instance, some 6,000 holidaymakers found themselves stranded this weekend after more than 100 flights were cancelled on Friday alone.

On the Turkish Mediterranean coast, hotels are offering extended stays, with hoteliers, tour operators and airlines jointly picking up the tab, said Sururi Corabatir, head of the Mediterranean Hoteliers Union.

“Luckily this incident occurred ... at the beginning of the season,” he told the Vatan newspaper. “Otherwise it would have been bad for the sector.”

In Israel, charter operator Sun D’or cancelled flights to destinations as diverse as Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Geneva, Katowice and Lodz in Poland, Moscow and Verona, Italy.

“We have thousands of passengers stranded, both here and abroad, who are unable to reach their destinations,” said El Al executive David Maimon on Israel’s Channel One television.

“What we are trying to do is prepare alternate schedules for the moment that airports open - and we are trying to move passengers from all over Europe to central and southern Europe and from there to Israel.”

In Portugal, some tourists relished staying on holiday a few days longer.

“EasyJet has assured us that we will be reimbursed for accommodation until Wednesday” when the next flight is due out, said British holidaymaker Karen Apple at Faro airport in the Algarve, the Correio da Manha newspaper reported.

Train options out of Portugal evaporated fast, however, with the Sud-Express sleeper train to Paris fully booked.

At Portuguese airports, the most severely disrupted was Faro Airport (Algarve), where by noon Thursday, around half of the day’s 52 arrivals had been cancelled; only seven had landed or were en-route, while the remainder awaited confirmation.

By 10h30 on Thursday morning just one flight, a Thomas Cook flight TCX795L at 09h50 to London Gatwick, had departed. Twenty-nine more departures were cancelled, more than half of the day’s flights from that airport. Three Thomson Airway flights to the northern airports of Birmingham, Manchester and Newcastle had been initially delayed by several hours, re-scheduled to leave later that afternoon, from 16h30 onwards, though passengers were plunged into despair as they too were also subsequently cancelled.

Hundreds of passengers queued at Faro Airport’s information desks, though little information was available as to how or when flights would eventually leave or arrive.

Those who were not being accommodated by friends or family, or owned a home in Portugal, prepared to camp down on the airport’s benches and floor, bracing themselves for what could be a very long wait.


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