Thousands stranded in Asia as European flights canceled due to Icelandic volcano ash plume

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Thousands stranded in Asia due to Iceland volcano

SYDNEY — Several thousand air passengers were stranded in Asia for a second day Saturday as flights were grounded because of a massive cloud of ash from an Icelandic volcano that paralyzed European airports.

At least 45 flights between Europe and Asia were cancelled Saturday, with the number expected to rise to surpass the previous day’s 60 cancellations.

Officials don’t known when the skies in Europe, one of aviation’s most congested areas, will be safe again. Volcanic ash limits visibility and is capable of knocking out jet engines.

It could be more than a week before the chaos is sorted out, warned David Epstein, corporate affairs manager for Qantas, Australia’s largest airline.

Qantas said its five flights that normally would go from Australia to Europe via Asian cities were flying Saturday — but only as far as the Asian stops.

“It’s best to put safety before schedule, and where there’s any question of volcanic ash being in the air we would prefer to take the safe approach rather than risk it to get flights in,” Epstein told reporters in Melbourne.

At Beijing’s international airport, most of the flights to Europe leaving Saturday had been called off, including ones to London, Paris, Rome, Frankfort and Copenhagen.

In Hong Kong, at least one airline, Cathay Pacific, was already canceling some Europe-bound flights for Sunday.

A dozen passengers from South Korea’s Incheon International Airport were grounded Saturday, said airport staffer Jeon Ji-ye.

Southern Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull (ay-yah-FYAH’-plah-yer-kuh-duhl) volcano eruption sent ash several miles (kilometers) into the air, with winds pushing the plume south and east across Britain, Ireland, Scandinavia and into the heart of Europe. Two-thirds of flights in Europe were cancelled, sending hundreds of thousands of stranded passengers in search of hotel rooms, train tickets or rental cars Friday.

About 2,000 Qantas customers are stuck in Singapore, Bangkok and Hong Kong. If they don’t want to wait, they are being offered flights to non-European destinations or back to Australia, Epstein said. About 100 international customers are being put up in hotels in Australia.

Air New Zealand flights to London also remained canceled for a second day, with an estimated 2,000 passengers waiting to leave the South Pacific country.

Taiwan’s China Airlines canceled a Saturday flight to Amsterdam, and Taiwan’s EVA Airways also canceled flights to London and Amsterdam on Saturday. Travel agents said more than 2,000 Taiwanese passengers were stranded in European airports because of the disruptions.

Hundreds of passengers in the Philippines — many heading to Europe by way of the Middle East — have not been allowed to board their flights, said Octavio Lina, operations manager of Manila’s international airport.

Japanese carriers had to cancel at least four more flights Saturday after grounding 15 flights with nearly 4,000 passengers Friday. Singapore Airlines canceled seven flights to Europe on Friday.

Associated Press writers Cara Anna in Beijing, Rohan Sullivan in Sydney, Annie Huang in Taipei, Kwang-Tae Kim in Seoul, South Korea, and Oliver Teves in Manila contributed to this report.

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