Volcanic Ash Causes Travel Chaos

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The travel chaos in Europe caused by a volcanic eruption in Iceland extends into a third day Saturday. The cloud of volcanic ash that began drifting across Europe on Thursday stopped air travel in huge areas of Northern Europe and severely disrupted trans-Atlantic flights. Host Scott Simon speaks with NPR's Eleanor Beardsley from Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris.


Let's check in now at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris - not to board a flight, but to talk with NPR's Eleanor Beardsley, who's at the airport. Eleanor, thanks for being with us.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: Great to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: What's the situation there?

BEARDSLEY: It's now the third day of airports being closed. And I hate to overuse the word surreal, but it is a bit surreal because the skies are perfectly blue - and there's not a plane in them. You know, I drove my car out to the airport, and there's the exit for Charles de Gaull. And it had a big, flashing sign over it that said airspace closed, and that was very weird to see that.

And then I arrive and there's just there's thousands of people here and, you know, milling around, eating sandwiches, huddled in groups, standing in lines. Nobody knows what to do. And there's, you know, big boards with about 400 flights on them and beside every one it says (French spoken), canceled. So Philadelphia, New York, D.C., Atlanta - everything has been canceled for today. And the airport is not supposed to open before 8 p.m. tonight, if they're lucky.

SIMON: And how are they handling all these stranded passengers?

BEARDSLEY: Well, I just ran into an Air France guy who was passing out free croissants and sandwiches. You know, people are trying. There's all kinds of personnel trying to explain. But obviously, people are frustrated. I haven't seen really very many angry people; everyone seems resigned to it. But there seems to be a lack of information. So personnel are trying to explain to people, but the problem is nobody really knows what's going on and how long the airport is likely to stay closed.

So you know, personnel are advising people to re-book their reservations. But now, you know, if you want to re-book, it's not until two or three, maybe even four days from now, because everybody's re-booking. And you know, I talked to some personnel. They said we're just trying to be nice to everybody, smile, you know, help families with children. So everyone is trying to make the best of it.

SIMON: You have some people there who are trying to make the best of it, I gather.

BEARDSLEY: I absolutely do. I ran into two Americans who are trying to get out, and they're from Minneapolis. And I will pass you to them. It's Fred Olerking(ph) and Tom Lyden(ph), and so they can tell you what it's like for them.

SIMON: OK. Is this Fred or Tom?

Mr. TOM LYDEN: This is Tom.

SIMON: Tom, how are you? Scott Simon here.

Mr. LYDEN: I'm very good.

SIMON: Nice to meet you. Thanks for being with us. So you're trying to get back home to Minneapolis?

Mr. LYDEN: That's right. We were supposed to get on board a flight this morning, a 9 a.m. flight, but that was canceled. We saw the Internet at 6 a.m. My father rang me up, and we saw that it had been canceled. And we actually just found out about the volcano just about 24 hours ago. And we got to the airport and we're re-booked now for a Montreal flight - connecting flight - Montreal to Minneapolis, for Monday. And we're hoping. We have our fingers crossed. But you don't know. I mean, that could be canceled as well.

SIMON: What are you doing to kind of pass the time there?

Mr. LYDEN: Well, we've been joking about suffering in style. I mean, everyone says if you have to be stuck someplace, Paris isn't so bad, and that's true.

SIMON: It's an airport, not the Champs-Elys�es.

Mr. LYDEN: Well, that's true, that's true. But we do we made hotel arrangements even before we came out to the airport because we saw that this might be a long stay. You know, my mom has told me I have to see the Louvre. And we've been here a week, and we never made it to the Louvre. So now my partner and I have said, we have to go to the Louvre. So mom gets her wish. We're going to the Louvre today.

SIMON: Tom, is French airport food better than U.S. airport food?

Mr. LYDEN: Well, you know, we had some of the little sandwiches that they were passing out. They aren't so good, actually. I mean, you know, beggars can't be choosers, so - the croissants were good; the sandwiches, so-so. But we've had a we've had a week of some pretty excellent meals, so I'm not complaining.

SIMON: OK. Well, very good talking to you, and could you hand the phone back to Eleanor?

Mr. LYDEN: Absolument.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Absolument - have you been working on their language skills with them, Eleanor?

BEARDSLEY: Well, he he said he's working on his French, and I said by the time you go home, you might just be fluent. So there was...

SIMON: I understand that while this has been a disaster for the airline industry, other transportation forms in Europe are doing pretty well.

BEARDSLEY: Absolutely. The trains are booming, getting great business, and so are the ferries between, you know, France and Britain. But you know, this being France, we're also in the middle of a rail strike. So you know, there's havoc in the trains, and people are getting on every last place they can find on trains to get out. But even that's not running perfectly.

But yeah, they could get more business if they would get up and running.

SIMON: NPR's Eleanor Beardsley, at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. Eleanor, keep watching the skies.

BEARDSLEY: I certainly will, Scott.

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