When we heard last night about disruption to airline movements in the UK, we were thinking "minor inconvenience". In the last 18 hours, it's become anything but - Stuff reports:
Travel agents are flat out after a huge cloud of ash from an Icelandic volcano forced the cancellation of up to 5000 flights in Europe, affecting thousands of New Zealand travellers.
Air traffic across Europe has been paralysed by the imposition of a massive no-fly zone amid fears the ash from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano could be sucked into aircraft engines, causing them to fail.
It was the first time "within living memory" a natural disaster had caused Britain to close its airspace, a spokeswoman for the National Air Traffic Service said.
The disruption could last at least two days and a leading volcano expert said the ash could present intermittent problems to air traffic for six months if the eruption continued.
Air New Zealand today cancelled two flights from London, while a flight from Hong Kong to London was diverted to Frankfurt, Germany, with passengers accommodated in hotels
A flight from Los Angeles to London scheduled to leave last night would likely return to Auckland today.
Air New Zealand international group general manager Ed Sims said travellers faced "a very uncertain situation".
"We're strongly advising passengers whose end point is the UK or the northern hemisphere that they're better off actually not departing, deferring their travel plans in conjunction with their travel agent through our sales staff," he told Radio New Zealand.
The airline was expecting to be updated on the situation about 6pm.
"I would anticipate there would be significant delays from that point on because there's such a vast backlog of flights."
The latest radio report we heard was that the UK Met Office is predicting no significant shifts in wind direction for the next two to three days, whilst ash and other residue are belching from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano at an increasing rate.
And more than anything else, we guess that it illustrates just how we take for granted our freedom to climb on a plane and fly halfway around the world. If this situation continues, it's going to have a huge knock-on effect as the Herald notes:
A leading volcano expert said if the eruption continued, the ash could present intermittent problems to air traffic for six months.
In 1982, a British Airways jumbo jet lost power in all its engines when it flew into an ash cloud over Indonesia, gliding towards the ground before it was able to restart its engines.
The incident prompted the aviation industry to rethink the way it prepared for ash clouds, resulting in international contingency plans which were activated yesterday.
"A ballpark estimate would be that half a million to a million people's travel will be disrupted in the U.K. over a couple of days, assuming things start to clear up soon," Peter Morris, chief economist at Ascend, an aviation consultancy in London, told the New York Times.
"For the long-haul players, especially those headed to the other side of the world, it's a nightmare."
We're actually quite pleased for once that we're staying home this weekend!