Ash Update: U.K. Airspace Finally Reopens

April 21, 2010

Update, 5 a.m. EDT: U.K. airspace reopened last night and flights are now arriving and departing from the major airports after almost a week of global travel chaos. Schedules will be subject to delay so passengers are advised to contact their airline, travel agent or cruise line before travelling.

(April 20, 3:15 p.m. EDT) -- While things are by no means back to normal, we are today seeing the first signs of positive movement after six days of disruption caused by volcanic ash.

Some U.K. airspace has finally reopened (though the situation changes all the time and no flights are expected to operate today from Britain's major southern airports). And cruise lines are innovatively using ships to help stranded travellers get back home.

Celebrity Cruises has cancelled the April 22-24 pre-inaugural sailing of Celebrity Eclipse and instead of entertaining travel trade and media onboard, is taking the ship to Bilbao Spain to pick up stranded passengers. The naming ceremony is still scheduled to take place on April 24.

Meanwhile, Thomson Cruises is diverting Island Escape from Madeira to bring passengers who were originally on a fly-cruise, including some 300 non-cruise Thomson clients who were stuck in Madeira, to Falmouth in Cornwall. And Cruise Maritime Voyages' Marco Polo picked up two British citizens in Tangier on Sunday and a further 12 in Portimao, Portugal on Monday, en route to the U.K.

Check here for the latest cruise line cancellations and disruptions.

Looking back to the sky, a few domestic flights left from Scottish airports this morning but Manchester, Birmingham, Luton and East Midlands airports will remain closed until at least 7 p.m. BST (2 p.m. EDT).

NATS, Britain's air traffic control service, says in a statement on its Web site that between 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. BST (8 a.m. and 2 p.m. EDT), aircraft will be able to operate above 20,000 feet in U.K. airspace, which means airlines can overfly Britain en route to airports further south in Europe.

According to Sky News, airspace in France is open, as well as Switzerland, Germany (from 1 p.m. BST or 8 a.m. EDT), Austria, the Netherlands, most of Italy and all of Spain.

Plans are emerging, too, to get stranded passengers back from Asia and the United States. According to the Sky News website, Madrid airport will be used as a hub to receive extra flights and more than 100 coaches are en route to Spain to bring passengers home. How to get on one of these coaches, however, remains unclear.

Some Asian carriers are bringing passengers into Rome, but again, getting back from Rome remains an uncertain prospect. The situation is not helped by an ongoing rail strike in France.

Nifty Map Via The New York Times: Status of European Airports

The advice to passengers remains the same: Do not turn up at the airport unless you know your flight is operating. If in doubt, contact your travel agent, cruise line or airline.

We'll keep you posted as further news unfolds.

--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor

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