Volcanic Ash Disrupts Air Travel on Massive Scale, Leaves World Wondering How to Pronounce Eyjafjallajokull.

Ash cloud from Iceland volcano rises to 22,000 feet. Photo: REUTERS/Ho New

An erupting volcano in Iceland has caused the biggest disruption to air traffic worldwide since September 11, 2001.   The volcano under the Eyjafjallajökull (ay-yah-FYAH’-plah-yer-kuh-duhl) glacier has caused severe flooding in Iceland, and the cloud of ash from the eruption has grounded flights across the globe as major airports shut down in the UK and Europe.

This Associated Press article gives us some pretty good reasons why volcanic ash in the air means flights should be grounded:

The highly abrasive, microscopic particles that make up volcanic ash pose a threat to aircraft because they can affect visibility and get sucked into airplane engines, causing them to shut down. The ash can also block pitot tubes, which supply vital instruments such as air speed indicators, or latch onto engine blades, forming a glassy substance that may cause engines to surge or stall.

Ash will also damage all forward-facing surfaces on an aircraft, such as the cockpit windshields, the wings’ leading edges, the landing lights and air filters for the passenger cabin.

Unfortunately, it seems that forecasters don’t know how long to expect this ash cloud to be a problem. If you’re scheduled to travel in the next few days, AirTreks recommends that you reconfirm your flights with the airlines directly no matter where in the world you’re flying, and if you’re scheduled to fly to one of the airports you know has been affected (as of now, all London airports, Paris airports, and airports in Ireland, Sweden, Belgium, and Norway), here are your options as an AirTreks client:

1. If you need to travel as soon as possible, contact the airlines directly to have them protect you onto the next available flight.  The airlines will be reshuffling hundreds of passengers directly through their inventory systems, so they will have more information and be better equipped than we will to get back on track as soon as possible.

2. If you want to rebook your flight for a later date in the next few weeks, or if you want to look into the possibility of refunding your affected ticket, please contact us at customercare@airtreks.com.

UPDATE: Please feel free to contact us with any questions as the situation develops over the next few days. If you are due to travel over the weekend, and you find that the day of your flight the airports are still closed and your scheduled flight is not operating, please contact the airlines directly for rebooking.

UPDATE (as of 9:30am PST, 4/16/10)

Looks like the flight logjam into and out of the UK and Northern Europe will continue into the weekend with no signs of letting up. Airports in UK, Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Belgium and the Netherlands, northern France and Germany among other Baltic countries are either completely closed or partially closed this morning.

On a positive note, specialists say the volcano is still erupting but producing less ash, which means things could get back on track if the trend continues. Here is BBC news’ most recent story about the situation including what airports are currently affected.

To add a little perspective on the whole affair, Eyjafjallajökull is doing it’s part to reduce CO2 emissions!

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