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Volcano-stranded Europeans seek alternate routes

Frustrated European travelers stranded overseas struggled to find alternate routes home, desperate for information on flights into the continent's few airports not closed by a dangerous cloud of ash from an Icelandic volcano.

world Updated: Apr 19, 2010 11:13 IST

Frustrated European travellers stranded overseas struggled to find alternate routes home, desperate for information on flights into the continent's few airports not closed by a dangerous cloud of ash from an Icelandic volcano.



Flights into Rome, Athens and Madrid became the new hot ticket at many international airports on Sunday -- but after three days of travel disruptions, the backlog of passengers meant many faced waiting lists of days, even weeks.



"We'll take any flight to Europe," said Dirk Maertens, 52, slumped against a railing at Bangkok's international airport alongside his wife and 16-year-old son.



The Maertens slept on plastic seats at the airport on Saturday night after their flight home to Belgium was cancelled. They planned to camp out again on Sunday on the off chance that seats on the already-overbooked Thai Airways flight into Rome might open up.



"When there is a flight, you have to be quick -- you have to get on it, you can't be too far away," said Claire Maertens, 49, explaining why the family won't leave the airport.



"It's so strange," she said. "One volcano, and the whole of Europe is down."



Modern Europe has never seen such a travel disruption. Millions of passengers have had plans foiled or delayed. Around the world, anxious passengers have told stories of missed weddings, business deals and holidays because of the ominous plume, which could damage airplane engines.



Some carriers, like Australia's Qantas, put passengers up in hotels, but many did not, offering instead only to refund tickets or exchange them for later flights.



Dubai-based Emirates airline, the Middle East's biggest carrier, said it was losing $ 10 million a day, including an estimated $ 1 million a day just to provide hotels and meals to more than 5,000 passengers who were in transit when flights were canceled last week.



Russia's Foreign Ministry was organizing round-the-clock consular services to arrange 72-hour visas for foreign passengers stuck at Moscow's three airports, Transportation Minister Igor Levitin said in a televised meeting.



While some airlines in Europe resorted to temporarily laying off staff to cope with lost revenue, Asian companies tried to find ways to keep as many flights as possible running.



Thai Airways, which said the disruption was costing it 100 million baht ($ 3 million) per day, was encouraging passengers whose flights from Bangkok were cancelled to travel instead to airports in southern Europe that are still open.



India's Jet Airways rerouted its flights to New York and Toronto via Athens. It was not servicing its routes to London or Brussels, according to airline official.