Travelers In Limbo At JFK

Volcanic ash from Iceland has shut down major airports throughout Europe. At John F. Kennedy airport in New York, travelers bound for Europe are dealing with flight problems the caused by the eruption.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Iceland's volcano continues to wreak havoc on global air travel. Clouds of ash forced airports to close in England, France, Italy, the Netherlands and much of Northern Europe. Airline passengers remained in limbo as hundreds of flights between Europe and the U.S. were canceled. Staff at JFK International Airport in New York set up a hundred cots for stranded passengers.

NPR's Margot Adler reports.

MARGOT ADLER: The route between New York and London is the second busiest in the world. And scores of passengers were finding their journey back to England or Ireland at an impasse. At JFK International Airport terminal 4, English and Irish tourists were everywhere. Peter and Deb Drud(ph), with their son Jacob, were supposed to fly to London last night. They came back to the airport this morning at 6 a.m.

Mr. PETER DRUD: We still don't know when we're flying.

ADLER: And how do you feel about it?

Mr. DRUD: Well, it's, you know, we've had a great time in New York and it's been a good holiday, but it'd just be nice to know, really.

Ms. DEB DRUD: You know, a volcano's a volcano. There's nothing they could do about it. So we've just got to go with the flow, as it were.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DRUD: And take it hour by hour, really.

ADLER: A spokesperson for Continental Airlines said they had canceled more than 57 flights between the U.S. and Europe. Tim Smith is the spokesperson for American Airlines.

Mr. TIM SMITH (Spokesperson, American Airlines): We've cancelled literally 56 of our flights to and from Europe and U.K. today. And our only flights that are really operating are going into Spain and Italy, which are farther south, of course.

ADLER: As to when they will get into the airspace, he doesn't know, he said. He will roll with the punches.

Mr. SMITH: They keep setting tentative times in which they hope to get back in, but that's happened literally two or three times since this began. And in every case it's been extended to a later date.

ADLER: He's now hearing Saturday. But nothing is absolute. Mike Boyd is president of Boyd Group International, an aviation consulting firm. He's more pessimistic than Smith. He says it could be...

Mr. MIKE BOYD (President, Boyd Group International): Three weeks before things get back to normal.

ADLER: He says, remember, one out of four people getting on airplanes in the U.S. are either directly or indirectly the result of international passenger demand.

Mr. BOYD: That international passenger demand is about, oh, 60 percent driven by Europe. So, when Europe passenger demand drops off, Omaha gets hit.

ADLER: Back at JFK, most travelers were philosophical. Terminal four put out a hundred cots near the ticketing area. And many travelers were sitting, lying, eating, even making new friends. Jan Lyons(ph) was sitting on a cot waiting for a Virgin Atlantic flight to Heathrow that was supposed to leave yesterday. I asked her to describe the scene around us.

Ms. JAN LYONS: Surreal. I just can't believe it's happening. It's like a dream. Yeah, but it's a bit more comfortable here than it was on the floor downstairs.

ADLER: And have you got any information about when you think your plane is leaving for Heathrow?

Ms. LYONS: No. None whatsoever. Nobody knows what's happening. And I think it just depends on when U.K. open the airspace.

ADLER: You seem to be smiling. It's almost as if...

Ms. LYONS: Well, if I wasn't, I'd be crying.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYONS: Because we're in that situation, you can't do anything about it. Well, we can blame Iceland, can't we?

(Soundbite of laughter)

ADLER: Most of the airlines say they will be as accommodating as possible: rebooking flights without penalties, giving full refunds when flights are cancelled. But Tim Smith, of American Airlines, says there are many problems to think about when rebooking passengers. Later flights are already booked, and the airline is already using some of their biggest planes. So, accommodating more passengers is not easy.

Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: