Airlines struggle to normalise

21 Apr 2010

Even with the landing of a British Airways flight BA 084 from Vancouver at London Heathrow, after five days of ash fall from an Icelandic volcano disrupted air travel across the world, authorities still caution travellers that the situation remains fluid.

And it may be weeks, they add, before all stranded travellers can be brought home. BA is hoping 24 more services from the US, Africa and Asia will return to home soil later today.

Eurocontrol, which supervises air traffic control in Europe from Belgium, predicts that about 14,000 flights (half of the regular 27,000 flights) across the continent can now proceed. It expects normal levels to be reached by Friday, April 23, 2010.

Air space in several countries such as France, Germany and Italy, which was previously closed since last week when the Iceland volcano began vigorously spewing dangerous ash, is being opened up gradually. They have been witnessing a limited number of aircraft taking to their skies again since Monday. Lufthansa said it was beginning to start up long-haul flights.

In Asia, Singapore Airlines reinstated its Paris-Singapore and Singapore-Barcelona (bypassing Milan) services last night and has already pushed through with Singapore-Paris, Singapore-Amsterdm, Singapore-Rome and Singapore-Zurich services earlier today. Its Rome-Singapore flight will depart from the Eternal City at 1600. Other flights have been cancelled.

SIA said customers who had their previous flights cancelled will be re-booked on departing flights subject to availability. Priority will be given to special needs passengers or the elderly, and those with infants or young children. Passengers who have the earliest original departure dates will be assigned seats on the flights.

Cathay Pacific’s (CX) flights to Paris today will operate normally, but those to and from Rome and Milan have been delayed. To ease the situation, the airline further upgraded the Rome service from an Airbus A340 to a Boeing 747-400, providing an extra 96 seats. All flights to and from Amsterdam, Frankfurt and London have been cancelled today, with some flights tomorrow cancelled.

Ivan Chu, CX director service delivery, appealed to travellers for patience during these difficult times. He also urged them to adopt a realistic attitude. “As and when services resume, all airlines around the world will be competing for landing slots at airports, and airspace and airports are going to be horribly congested.”

To help clear the expected backlog, he even asked passengers with European bookings for non-essential travel to give them up to free up seats. The airline will not be taking new bookings on European flights for departures on or before May 10.

CX’s recovery programme includes steps such as stopping connecting passengers from coming to Hongkong; adding extra sectors, upgrading to larger aircraft on critical routes; asking passengers on non-essential flights to postpone travel and working out a priority system when services begin to return to normal.

According to Chu, students returning to the UK to sit for examinations and unaccompanied minors (children under 12) will be given priority.

For more details, visit and or call tel 852 2747 8888 (open 7am to 11 pm) to register priority passengers and for ticketing changes, tel 852 2747 1888.

Margie T Logarta

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