Is the Icelandic Volcano Running Out of Puff?

May 25, 2011
(9 a.m. EDT) -- There is renewed hope for an end to the travel disruption caused by volcanic ash today, as U.K. airspace has reopened and flight schedules are slowly returning to normal. British Airways, Dutch airline KLM and FlyBe, all of which operate regional services from Scotland, are fully operational again today. The ash cloud has, however, moved over Germany, and Hamburg and Bremen airports were closed earlier today. They have since reopened, but Berlin's Tegel airport is now affected. Airports serving the majority of routes for the European river cruise market, including Frankfurt, Nuremberg, Vienna and Munich, are unaffected. What's frustrating for travellers is the mixed messages being put out by the media and by official bodies. The latest statement from Eurocontrol, the European organisation that monitors the safety of air navigation, said today: “According to the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre forecasts, it is expected that ash cloud coverage will dissipate during the day.” Britain's Met Office, however, is forecasting a return of high-density ash in British air space on Friday, just as thousands of cruise passengers prepare to join ships sailing from European ports over the half term holiday week. Yet the volcano, according to the BBC website, stopped erupting at 2 a.m. this morning. The reality is that the changeable wind and the unpredictability of the volcano itself mean nobody really knows what to expect. Luckily, cruise lines appear to have suffered either no or minimal disruption so far: A statement from Royal Caribbean said: “We are closely monitoring the Icelandic volcanic eruption to assess any potential impact to flights to and from the UK. We expect to see normal air operations today. Should the situation change RCCL will be in contact with fly cruise guests as soon as any relevant information is received.”

A spokesman for All Leisure Group told us that Voyages of Discovery is unaffected, although Hebridean Island Cruises has a cruise departing tomorrow from Oban, Scotland. “At this current stage the ash cloud is yet to cause disruption but they are monitoring the airspace and assisting guests in every way possible to make alternative travel arrangements if need be.” A charter flight to and back from Rome today carrying All Leisure Group's Swan Hellenic passengers suffered only a short delay. P&O Cruises' flights and departures are unaffected, a spokeswoman confirms, and neither are those of Princess Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Windstar Cruises or Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines. MSC Poesia is still scheduled to call at three Icelandic ports over this weekend. The ship is currently en route to Bergen, Norway. We have yet to hear from Holland America and Oceania Cruises. All cruise lines offer the same advice to travellers departing over the next few days. Check your cruise line's website first for updates; or if you've booked a flight separately from your cruise, check that it is operating before leaving for the airport. We'll keep you posted of any further ash cloud updates. --by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor