ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
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And I'm Michele Norris.
Volcanic activity in Iceland has brought travel chaos to northern Europe and halted most transatlantic travel, too. An eruption yesterday sent a plume of volcanic ash more than 30,000 feet into the air. The ash is now drifting south and east, closing European airspace and leaving thousands of passengers stranded.
Vicky Barker reports from London.
VICKY BARKER: The British people's penchant for standing on line is much overstated, but their ability to organize a line may have seen its finest hour at Heathrow's Terminal 5 today. Within minutes, it seemed, of UK airspace being closed, thousands of becalmed travelers were being courteously herded into different queues. Claire Whitlock(ph) of Los Angeles had been starting a four-month trip around Europe
Ms. CLAIRE WHITLOCK: So, we're trying to find out if we can have our flight, our connecting flight refunded or what's next for us.
BARKER: She was on the very long, disrupted travel line.
Ms. WHITLOCK: It is a long line, apparently not as long as the hotel voucher line which is a lot longer.
Mr. JOE SCHROOFER(ph): Well, I came in from Baltimore, left last night and came in.
BARKER: Joe Schroofer and his wife weren't going to make their connection to Amsterdam for the cruise they'd saved up for. He had the tickets in his shirt pocket.
MR. SCHROOFER: Along the Rhine River, and going to all to the different places, Rotterdam, Amsterdam. So all I can do is get my bags now and see if I can get back to Baltimore.
BARKER: Sheila Bromley(ph) of Chester in northern England was waiting on the long distance bus line along with a small mountain of luggage. She had just flown in from Australia via Los Angeles, on the final leg of around the world trip, and then her flight was diverted to avoid the cloud of ash which had reached the north of England first.
Ms. SHEILA BROMLEY: I was flying to Manchester direct with all these cases, cases booked through, all night without sleep. And I'm stuck, told hotels and trains are full, and my best bet is to wait here and hopefully get a bus to Manchester, which is not where I want to go.
BARKER: In the early hours of the siege, at least, moods were still largely stoical. It's hard to get mad at a volcano. Besides, many of the stranded travelers seem to have heard what happened to two civilian jetliners that had flown through clouds of grit and glass and ash from erupting volcanoes back in the 1980s - a total shutdown of all engines. In fact, it's because of those incidents that international aviation officials were prepared for this one.
Meteorologists and aviation authorities have been watching the volcano since it first began erupting last month. When it became clear the ash and grit from yesterday's explosive event had been swept up by the jet stream, they rolled out their emergency plan.
Bob Jones of the UK Civil Aviation Authority said this suspension of all flights was virtually unprecedented.
Mr. BOB JONES (Head of Flight Operations, UK Civil Aviation Authority): We haven't experienced this sort of airspace closure since 9/11.
BARKER: The volcano is still spewing ash and grit into the air, and the winds haven't shifted. And that means flights could remain suspended well beyond the current deadline of early Friday.
Mr. JONES: We won't be able to lift those restrictions until we're comfortable that it's safe to have aircraft fly with members of the traveling public again.
BARKER: It's estimated as many 600,000 people were affected just by the closure of UK airspace for a single day. If the closures continue, and continue to spread across mainland Europe, the human and financial costs will mount fast.
For NPR News, I'm Vicki Barker in London.
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