Friday 24 February 2017

Hundreds of millions up in smoke

European airlines are losing €140m a day while airports across the country remain deserted, writes Jerome Reilly

Ryanair and Aer Lingus have lost millions since the Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted four days ago.

The cost to Irish and British airlines from the closure is likely to be more than €30m a day. The losses to European airlines overall is estimated at some €140m a day after the unprecedented shutdown of commercial air travel.

Virtually all of Europe's major airports remained closed yesterday as a huge plume of volcanic ash drifted south and east across the continent from Iceland.

Aer Lingus has confirmed that all UK, European and US flights scheduled to depart today have been cancelled from Dublin, Cork, Shannon, Belfast, London Heathrow and Gatwick, including Aer Lingus regional flights. Ryanair announced on Friday that it was suspending all flights until Monday lunchtime at the earliest.

Millions of air travellers remain stranded as thousands of flights have been cancelled for a fourth day. Yesterday Dublin Airport was deserted except for frustrated travellers queuing to rebook flights cancelled due to the lockdown on Irish airspace.

And not a single flight departed to or left Shannon Airport. The terminal was deserted apart from a few workers and security attendants.

Ten flights to the mid-west from Stansted, Heathrow, New York, Boston, Tenerife and Dublin were all cancelled yesterday.

Fergal Ryan from Galway had hoped to travel to the US to visit his brother.

"When this started on Thursday, the transatlantic flights were still going so it seemed we would be okay, but that is all gone now too. All we can do is wait for these south-westerly winds to help us," Mr Ryan said.

Thousands of passengers whose trips have been disrupted may not be able to claim on their holiday insurance but they will be able to get a refund on flight fares.

Joe Sheridan's bar in Shannon Airport, which is normally crowded with would-be flyers and jovial US troops, returning home from the Middle East was the quietest pub in the region.

Cork Airport's terminal was also effectively deserted yesterday afternoon as would-be passengers heeded the advice given by airlines to check on the status of their flights before setting out to the airport.

Cancelled flights included lunchtime routes from Munich, Dublin, Malaga, Cardiff and Glasgow.

Several passengers queued at the Aer Lingus desk to rearrange their flights.

A few of the airport restaurants remained closed due to lack of business but the disruption was most keenly felt by a handful of taxi drivers who waited in vain outside the airport in the hope of receiving fares.

The aircraft based at Cork remained on the tarmac with their engine covers on as passengers grew increasingly despondent with the situation.

However, the mood amongst passengers was one of resignation with an acknowledgement that for once airlines could not be blamed for cancellations.

Passengers are advised to consult with their airlines' websites before heading to Cork Airport today in order to make sure they have up-to-date information on their flights.

A spokesperson for the Defence Forces said all Air Corps flights, including marine patrol and training flights, have been suspended in accordance with the Irish Aviation Authority's directive that Irish airspace remain closed until 1pm today.

Crews remain on standby, however, for emergency situations. Any such situation would be considered on a case-by-case basis, the spokesperson said, adding that the situation remained under constant review.

P&O Irish Sea services on the Dublin-Liverpool route are currently operating on schedule, but space is limited for motorists.

Fastnet Line said it was putting on extra sailings out of Cork and Swansea tomorrow to facilitate people who are stranded. The Julia will sail tomorrow, leaving from Cork at 9am and arriving at Swansea at 7pm.

The Julia will sail tomorrow from Swansea to Cork at 9pm, arriving at 7am on Tuesday, April 20.

A spokesman for Stena Line said there was no question of extra services -- as no one had spare ships -- but said it was running what amounted almost to a "shuttle service" of three and a half hours duration for a conventional ship between Ireland and Britain.

He said while the Dun Laoghaire-Holyhead route was heavily booked last night people should be flexible, and he added that places on other routes such as services from Dublin Port, Rosslare and Belfast were also available.

He said people could telephone the company on 01 2047777 or check Stenaline.ie.

So far the lockdown on air travel has had relatively limited impact on food imports.

A Marks & Spencer spokesman said: "Some fruit, veg and flower lines do arrive by air. At this stage we are not expecting any supply problems, but we are of course keeping a close eye on the situation."

A Tesco spokesman said: "Fewer than one per cent of our products are air-freighted. Those that are include orchids, chillies and some exotic fruit.

An Post said it had been using ferries to get post to the UK. A spokesman said anything that was posted on Thursday or Friday had reached its destination at this stage.

He added, however, there could potentially be a problem with post going beyond the UK if the situation continued, but at the moment there were no problems.

All flights to and from Northern Ireland were cancelled again yesterday morning following a brief interlude that saw some schedules resume on Friday evening.

Flights between Belfast and Scotland were permitted from 7pm on Friday but Britain's national air traffic control agency NATS once again grounded aircraft early yesterday morning because of the pattern of volcanic ash clouds swirling around British airspace.

Many people simply gave up trying to get to London and other major destinations in Britain because of the risk of getting stranded in England and missing work this week.

With the ferries to Stranraer and Liverpool heavily booked, train fares to London reportedly rocketed to nearly £200 (€228) for a single fare from Merseyside to the British capital. Some fans with tickets for major sporting fixtures in London like last night's big Premiership game between Spurs and Chelsea managed to reallocate their tickets through the club but many ended up missing the game.

Sunday Independent

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