My amusement at seeing Mother Nature strike back at humanity in the guise of an ash-spewing Icelandic volcano is gradually turning to dismay. I'm sympathetic to all those travelers whose trips have been postponed or canceled (though why are they just sitting around JFK? Go to Central Park!). But the blob keeps inching closer to our own plans to fly to London in early May. Now all those selfish-traveler instincts are kicking in: This is going to affect MY fabulous weekend jaunt? Volcanoes SUCK!
What sucks even more is that the airlines don't seem to be dropping fares to Europe to encourage me to throw caution to the wind and just buy a ticket already. The price for the flights I'm watching is holding around a pretty-hard-to-swallow $690, down only $20 from last week, also known as the P.E.E. (Pre-Eyjafjallajokull Era). Our hoped-for departure date is only two weeks away, and it's entirely plausible that Big Bjork is gonna keep belching up clouds of ash over northern Europe. As of Tuesday morning, airplanes were flying around Europe again, but flights to London Heathrow are still grounded until Wednesday at least.
Now, the only aspect of all this with entertainment value is the row (in Europe, it's always a "row") that has broken out over who's to blame for the whole thing. The head of the International Air Travel Association, a feisty-sounding man named Giovanni Bisignani, called the whole matter a "European embarrassment" and blamed the pencil-pushing, red-tape-spinning, cabal of petty arguers better known as the European Union: "The decision Europe has made is with no risk assessment, no consultation, no coordination, no leadership." Never mind that the EU doesn't actually have jurisdiction over European air-traffic control: Rather, each individual country controls its own airspace, which makes sense for national security reasons. But Mr. Bisignani, who represents the industry, wants the airlines to start flying (and making money) again. I'm sympathetic—the airline business is never easy, and it's getting worse. But in this case, I'd rather rely on the judgment of the government authorities, even if they are confused and contradictory and excessively cautious, than on the airline companies worried about stemming their losses. I'll take inconvenience, even painful inconvenience, over plummeting 30,000 feet to my death because the engines glued up.
But that's just me.
Photo: Lightning in the ash plume of Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano. Credit: Olivier Vandeginste, LiveScience.com