So here I am...stuck in Germany. Well, not really stuck, since I know when I am going to return to the UK. A few days ago Iceland decided to cough (as an acquintance of mine put it!) and spluttered volcanic ash all over Europe. Flights were cancelled and the world was/is in chaos. We heard a comment on German radio the other day, which roughly translated said,"First they burn our money, then they send us the ashes!"
When Ryanair announced last Friday that there would be no flights to and from the UK until at least Monday lunchtime, I thought I should make some alternative arrangements, bearing in mind I was supposed to be back at work on Monday. I tried in vain to get through to Ryanair to re-book my flight. This, with hindsight, was a truly Good Thing, because I probably wouldn't have been back in the UK before May Bank Holiday the way things are going. The alternative options open to me were firstly the train, which I decided was a) too expensive, and b) the thought of lugging bags on and off trains and luggage racks while my back is still in recovery (a few months and several chiropractic sessions later) did not exactly enthrall me. Second option was to take a bus to Victoria. After some online investigation and a trip to a local travel agency, I was able to book onto the first available bus, which leaves Heidelberg tomorrow at midnight. This gets me into London late morning on Thursday.
The media is full of tales of people's long and arduous journeys across Europe to reach the Channel ports, hiring cars and taxis at inflated prices or having to stay on camp beds in airports or at expensive hotels while they wait for the skies to clear. Dan Snow, the historian and BBC presenter, even took a flotilla of inflatable boats across the channel at the weekend to pick up stranded Brits ("Ye Olde Dunkirk Spirit"). He was stopped in his tracks at Calais, although I do believe he took a few back. I do consider myself one of the lucky ones, having somewhere safe and comfortable to wait, and feel really sorry for those without money and nowhere to go.
Meanwhile the airlines are whinging that it's all taking too long and they're losing money, and let's ignore the fact that the volcanic ash damaged the engines of some f-16s. Lufthansa sent some planes from Munich to Frankfurt, which the BBC decided was evidence that they were 'test flights'. In fact, they were sent there to have them ready for when the planes were ready to really carry passengers. The BBC claimed that they flew "at altitudes of up to 8000m." What they didn't say was that most of the way they were travelling at 3000m, well below normal flying altitude. The time they spent at 8000m must have been barely a few minutes, considering the short flight time between the two cities. Other airlines are also sending test flights and claiming no damage to engines. What if the effects are cumulative? I'm not sure I would want to be in one of the first flights going back!