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Airlines battle with passenger backlog after ash cloud chaos

world Updated: Apr 21, 2010 08:30 IST

Planes took to Europe's skies in greater numbers on Wednesday after the chaos caused by the Iceland volcano cloud, but travellers still faced disruption as airlines fought to shift a huge backlog.

Britain finally lifted a flight ban on its airspace late Tuesday, following Belgium, France and Germany and others in easing restrictions introduced after the Eyjafjoell volcano spewed a huge dust cloud across the continent.

Shortly before 10:00 pm (2100 GMT), a British Airways flight from Vancouver flew into Heathrow airport, Europe's busiest air hub.

It was the first to land there since officials closed down the country's airspace last week.

Stranded travellers across Europe were delighted as the curbs on flying were eased.

"I've never been so happy in my life going back home," said Shahriar Ravari from San Diego, waiting at a Paris airport for a flight to Los Angeles, the end of his travel nightmare in sight.

"I love France but to be going home is something else."

But the airlines now face a huge challenge to shift the backlog of passengers that has built up.

Millions of people have been stranded across the globe since Europe began shutting down airspace on April 14, and airline schedules are in disarray after so many of their planes were grounded.

"As we have many aircraft and crew out of position, it will still take some considerable time before we can restore our full flying programme," British Airways warned.

Budget carrier easyJet added: "Due to the extent of the disruption, it will take several days to resume normal operations and delays are likely."