Flight Memo: Volcanic ash across Europe

The BBC's volcanic ash map on Tuesday, April 20, 2010.
The BBC's volcanic ash map on Tuesday, April 20, 2010.

At first, the very idea that a plume of volcanic ash could force the closure of airspace seemed ludicrous. Until a few days ago, clearly, I knew nothing about the power of volcanic ash. Volcanoes of the world, hear this: I and millions of others stand corrected, now and forever. Never again will we doubt your power to wreak serious and debilitating havoc.

Last week, in the wake of the eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano, first the countries of northern and western Europe closed their airports. And then country after country to the south and east followed suit. The whole thing proceeded as if by incredibly rapid viral transmission. Very quickly all sorts of relatively arcane volcano terminology began to crop up on television news programs in Europe.

The ash arrives in Romania and Moldova

For days I monitored the expanding shade of ash across the BBC’s map of Europe. Then on Saturday morning, I awoke to learn from an employee at our hotel in Gura Humorului, Romania that Romania and Moldova had closed their airports. Suddenly it seemed likely that I too would be directly affected by the air travel stoppage that had come to paralyze Europe.

The lack of regular updates by trusted sources became a source of frustration. Eurocontrol, the European Organization for the Safety of Air Navigation, has been updating their volcanic ash cloud maps far too infrequently. And then there are many publications listing European countries with full or partial airspace closures that have been omitting Moldova from their tabulations altogether, despite the fact that the Chisinau airport has been closed for days.

Taking flight today?

Today I’m scheduled to fly from Chisinau to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines. As of this moment, very early on Tuesday morning in Chisinau, my flight is scheduled to take off as planned around noon.

My mother—my traveling companion for the past week-and-a-half—is supposed to be Milan-bound on Meridiana at noon tomorrow. Her flight has been canceled outright. We’ve spent many of the last few hours sketching out contingency plans for her. Happily, she’s on vacation and can take the time to make her way south and west.

About the author

Alex Robertson Textor
About the author: Bitten by the travel bug at 11, Alex Robertson Textor has fond childhood memories of ultracheap Spanish hotels (the kind with Styrofoam shelving) and supermarket lunches scarfed on park benches. Formerly an academic, Alex has spent the last several years redirecting his professional life into full-time travel journalism and editing. He has published articles in the New York Times, Guardian Unlimited, Condé Nast Traveler, Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel, and the San Francisco Bay Guardian, among other publications.
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