Note: The authors hoped to be in the Faroe Islands this week. That Icelandic volcano had other ideas. They reflect from Berlin on an interesting week in European travel.
Air travel in Europe has taken a hard knock these past days. Media reports of all Europe being utterly paralyzed have a dash of hyperbole. Less than one percent of intra-European international journeys rely on air travel, and European bus companies, ferry and rail operators have jumped at the chance to remind the traveling public that they have seats to spare.
Rediscovering the train
True, there have been some pinch points where train capacity was stretched—for example, Eurostar services through the Channel Tunnel to London were very full. That said, all those who wanted to book were able to secure places, and even when the prospects for air travel were at their worst (last Saturday and Sunday), we noted that travelers prepared to book three days in advance could still secure rail tickets from Cologne to London for €59.
Reopening the skies
Chances are that today over half of all scheduled flights in Europe will operate. This will be the first time in a week that the flight success rate has topped the 50 percent threshold. On the three most dismal days for travelers—April 17, 18 and 19—less than a third of all scheduled flights operated.
Small is beautiful
Media attention focused on the chaos at major hub airports where travelers waited in vain for flights. Few folk noticed the little airlines that often managed to operate from minor airports while big jets were grounded. For example, Widerøe used its fleet of Dash-8 turboprops to offer flights to two dozen remote airports in Norway.
The Faroese factor
The Faroe Islands were less fortunate. That evil cloud hung directly overhead. The sole weekly ship to continental Europe left last Thursday as normal—before the full extent of flight disruption was really evident. Since then the islands have been effectively cut off from the wider world.
Now Europe’s skies are opening up again, and the Faroes are being reconnected, ironically just as the Smyril Line ship is due back in the islands for that weekly voyage to Denmark.
Rethinking travel options
For remote island communities, flights are a lifeline. But for much of Europe they are a luxury—at least for short hops across the continent of less than 1,000 miles. Many Europeans are now rethinking their travel choices for the future. There may yet be a silver lining in volcanic clouds.