With the re-opening of Europe’s major airline hubs in London, Paris and Amsterdam, air travelers began to breathe a collective sigh of relief on Tuesday as 46% of scheduled flights operated in the region. While this is certainly good news, it won’t mean much to tens of thousands of travelers who either couldn’t get home or to their intended destination for almost a week due to the eruption of a volcano in Iceland that spewed ash across Europe and Scandinavia. Officials estimate it could take one to two weeks to accommodate all travelers caught in the backlog.
On Tuesday an estiimated 13,000 flights returned to the air out of a normal daily total of 28,000. While still less than half of the daily schedule, only about 5,000 daily flights had flown during the previous days. The first flight to arrive at London’s Heathrow Airport was a British Airways aircraft that originated in Vancouver, Canada. The airline had sent 26 flights towards London on Tuesday with the hope that the ash clouds would have either moved on or dissipated before arrival. Only one flight couldn’t get into London and it diverted to Brussels, Belgium.
The economic impact on the airline industry has been estimated at well over $1 billion, as analysts suggested the daily losses to the world’s carriers at $250 million. The expense to stranded travelers can’t be measured, as many paid for several days of hotel accommodations and meals and waited for the skies to re-open. Tens of thousands of Europeans took to the rails, paying for full-fare and even first-class passage when nothing else was available.
Nearly 100,000 flights were canceled during the crisis which will undoubtedly place major financial strains on all airlines, but especially the smaller ones with minimal cash reserves. It is believed that the larger airlines with larger reserves and access to larger lines of credit will weather the storm better, though their losses will also be in the milllions of dollars.
Flights between Minneapolis/St. Paul and London operated by Delta Air Lines have resumed, as have others the airline flies to Amsterdam to Paris. Icelandair also serves the Twin Cities and its flights can now proceed to the major European capitals beyond it home hub of Reykjavik. Delta has estimated that it lost about $5 million daily because of the situation. Other U.S. carriers impacted include United, American, Continental and US Airways.