A Touch of the Volcanics

By | Category: Travel rumblings

Having flown quite a bit over the last forty years, I have faced all sorts of reasons for flight delays and cancellations. I’ve had an engine failure in Karachi, a lightning strike over Teheran, thunder and lightning in the airspace in which we are going to fly through and even a delay due to the pilot being removed because he was considered drunk.
But I have never had the reason I had yesterday morning. My flight back from Glasgow had been cancelled because of a volcanic ash cloud in the upper atmosphere.
Anyway you all know about the situation because there was been wall-to-wall media coverage even to the point that this morning, the lead story tended to be the ash story rather than the party leaders’ debate.
Like about 600,000 other people yesterday, I had to decide how to get back home. The options were to wait and see what happened, take a train, hire a car or go by coach. (Ian Botham I am not, so I ruled out walking.) But, in hindsight, the most important decision was when to leave Glasgow. Luckily, Cathrene has links with vulcanologists. (see our changing headline story) Their view was that it would last longer than a 24 shutdown. (The latest news is that airspace might reopen at 01.00 on Saturday morning.) When other people heard, there would be a rush for alternative transport so we decided on an early train the 10.40 out of Glasgow Central. But the fares! A walk-up fare was £107 for a single to London Euston but if you used a machine you could end up, quite innocently, paying over £200. There were no discounts whatsoever so Virgin Trains must have had a great day because at least 10 people in our carriage had paid the £107 fare. No offer or PR along the lines of we’ll help passengers to get home. Just a case of rules are rules.
The train was busy but at least no standing. The seat reservation system was broken so we had the usual arguments over seats. One belligerent grandmother with 3 kids in tow demanded a table because she wouldn’t leave them alone. My was she determined and aggressive. Her argument was reasonable but her approach! So the people around the table gave way and moved elsewhere. (She had no reservations either). Later trains I gather were so much busier.
I had to switch trains as the car was at Terminal 5 long stay car park so I was going to Watford Junction to catch the connecting bus to Heathrow. At Preston I changed and then at Wolverhampton. Passing Birmingham International Airport, you could see lots of planes on the tarmac but nothing happening.
At 6.30 pm the bus rolled into Heathrow. It was so quiet we could have driven at 60mph instead of 30. This could be the course for the next street F1 Grand Prix given the corners and chicanes! I had never seen the airport layout so clearly. I rang to see if the Long Term car park buses were still running. They were. I was the sole passenger. The driver said that the morning had been manic with people coming and going but after the decision to close the airport at midday it quietened. At 3pm they orders went out to turn people away from the car parks and bollards stopped entry. They had to remove those when my bus pulled in and the gatekeeper looked surprise that a passenger was on the bus.
Heathrow is eerie when there are no planes. The quiet is strange, the lack of people is odd, the vast empty spaces look like concert halls after the main event is over and everyone’s left.
Out of Heathrow, onto the M25 and gridlock for 6 or 7 miles. Reality was restored. Eventually I got home at 19.22 so the door-to-door trip took 8 hours and 44 minutes. And if I hadn’t gone to collect the car it would have been about 2 hours less.
But I was one of the lucky ones. I left Glasgow before the rush. The jostling, the lack of manners and courtesy got worse afterwards I was told by later travellers.

Can I claim on insurance? Probably not. If ever there was one, this was due to act of God. And most insurance policies don’t cover you although I have heard that Direct Line has said it will payout to its policymakers.

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