Stranded Travelers Begin ‘Mad Rush’ as Flights Resume

Barajas Airport in Madrid
Sandy Farhi, front center, an airline passenger from France, sits waiting in the terminal for her flight to leave Barajas Airport in Madrid, on April 19, 2010.Photographer: Denis Doyle/Bloomberg

April 21 (Bloomberg) -- Airlines began returning thousands of stranded travelers to Europe as airports in the U.K., France and Germany re-opened following a shutdown caused by a cloud of volcanic ash.

“We came in a mad rush” after hearing flights were resuming, said Diana Tucker, 60, as she queued with hundreds of others for a British Airways Plc flight in Sydney today. She and her husband were trying to return to their home in Jersey in the Channel Islands. “We don’t know if we’ll get on. We’re very tired.”

It may take weeks before carriers are able to clear backlogs of stranded passengers following the eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano last week. Ash drifting over Europe has forced the cancellation of more than 95,000 flights since April 15, disrupting conferences, forcing carmakers to cut production and curbing shipments of fresh foods.

“It’s very hard to predict how long it’s going to take to resume normal operations,” said Andrew Herdman, director general of the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines, which represents 17 carriers in the region. “There’s still a lot of uncertainty about the ash plume.”

Singapore Airlines Ltd., Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd., Korean Air Lines Co. and other carriers said they were resuming flights to cities including London, Frankfurt and Paris. U.K. regulators re-opened most of the nation’s airspace late yesterday, following similar moves by officials across Europe.

Carriers also said they were trying to add extra services to help clear backlogs.

Thousands Delayed

Qantas Airways Ltd., Australia’s biggest carrier, said it would take as long as three weeks to clear a backlog of 15,500 stranded passengers. The carrier said yesterday that the shutdown was costing it about A$1.5 million ($1.4 million) per day and that no seats to Europe were available before mid-May.

Cathay Pacific, with about 15,600 delayed travelers, has two planes stranded in London and Frankfurt, which it will use for extra flights from Europe later today. The airline’s Europe-bound flights are fully booked for the rest of the month and it isn’t accepting reservations for European flights before May 10, it said yesterday.

Singapore Airlines

Singapore Airlines has some 3,000 stranded passengers in Sydney and about 5,000 in Singapore, spokeswoman Susan Bredow said in Sydney. The carrier is making three Singapore-London flights today, one more than it planned earlier in the day.

The Tuckers, the Jersey-bound British Airways passengers, had originally booked to fly home yesterday. They were later told that they would be unable to travel before May 8. The carrier than called them today to say flights were resuming.

Cathay Pacific jumped as much as 5.8 percent in Hong Kong trading, the biggest intraday gain since Dec. 11, and was up 4.3 percent at HK$16.56 as of 2:53 p.m. Singapore Air rose 0.8 percent to S$15.34 in the city-state.

“Assuming that we continue to see the European airspace returning to normal operations over the next few days, this represents a modest impact to the overall global 2010 industry profit outlook,” Randy Tinseth, marketing chief at Boeing Co., the world’s second-largest commercial airplane maker, wrote in an e-mail reply to Bloomberg.

BMW, Nissan

The shutdown forced Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, the world’s largest maker of luxury cars, to temporarily stop production at three German factories due to a supply shortage. Nissan Motor Co. said it halted production of about 2,000 cars in Japan because of delays in receiving tire-pressure gauges from Ireland. Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. said their production hadn’t been affected.

South Korea said yesterday that about 29,000 passengers and cargo worth $140 million had been delayed because of the shutdown. In Hong Kong, the world’s busiest international air-cargo airport, at least 1,100 tons of freight was stranded at the airport yesterday. Imports of fresh foods from Europe were also disrupted, causing local restaurants to consider turning to Asian suppliers.

“Our clients want super-fresh products,” said Emmanuel Calinaud a partner at Fresh Direct, which supplies Michelin-starred restaurants in Hong Kong with foie gras and fresh seafood from France. “Their fridges are going to get empty soon so most of the chefs are going to buy Japanese fish.”

U.K. services resumed after manufacturers agreed “increased tolerance levels in low ash density areas,” the nation’s Civil Aviation Authority said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. Ash represents a threat to jetliners because it could stop their engines by congealing in turbines.

In Sydney, Kirsten Jack, 42, was also queuing for the British Airways flight as she and her partner headed for Manchester. She was originally due to leave on April 16.

“It’s been good to have an extra few days of holiday but it’s just the uncertainty,” she said. “My partner has his own business so he’s lost some money, but there’s nothing we can do about it.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Chan Sue Ling in Singapore slchan@bloomberg.net; Nichola Saminather in Sydney on nsaminather1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Neil Denslow at ndenslow@bloomberg.net