Joy for travellers as flights resume

By Vaimoana Tapaleao, agencies

Hundreds of travellers last night breathed a collective sigh of relief as Air New Zealand resumed flights to Britain.

It has been almost a week since Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted, sending a plume of smoke and ash towards the British Isles, Ireland and mainland Europe.

The result was the grounding of thousands of flights in and out of Europe, ruining the travel plans of tens of thousands of travellers around the world.

New Zealand was not spared, and at Auckland International Airport last night relief came for many travellers came with the resumption of flights to London - via other international airports.

Margaret McCraady, from Northern Ireland, said she was feeling great to be heading home, after spending the past week worried that the flight she was booked on would not take off.

"I've been watching the news and seen what [the volcanic eruption] has meant for people. I'm so happy we haven't been affected by it - it's great."

Malcolm Brydon, of Nottingham, said he would have been very upset if he was one of the people who was stuck at an airport.

"I've got several doctors appointments when I get home, so it would've been very bad for me if I got stuck here and I wasn't there," Mr Brydon said.

"It's unfortunate that there have been loads of people stuck at Los Angeles [for example] and we will get first priority - to fly straight from there to London, whereas they will have to wait, still."

Among those happy travellers also included Cliff and Gerry Jones, who were in New Zealand visiting their daughter in the Waikato when the Icelandic volcano drama unfolded.

The couple had been booked to fly out of Auckland last night, to London via Los Angeles, and was confident the skies would be clear for their flight to go through.

But the lifting of the no-fly ban came too late for two New Zealanders trying to get home from London for their wedding on Friday.

As reported in the Herald yesterday, Nicola Bernau and Karl Marett were due to get married in front of family and friends in Tauranga tomorrow, but as the week went on, it became increasingly obvious they would not make the ceremony.

Ms Bernau's father Tim yesterday confirmed the couple had finally been forced to pull the pin and call the wedding off.

The distressed pair had been unable to "see the wood for the trees" and a decision had to be made, Mr Bernau said.

The couple were now "waiting for the dust to settle" before thinking about setting a new wedding date.

In Britain, questions were yesterday starting to be asked if the ban was necessary in the first place.

The six-day shut-down is estimated to have cost the British economy more than $3.5 billion, left 500,000 passengers stranded and disrupted schools.

The decision to resume flights came after ministers were put under pressure to explain why British flights were being stopped while most of European airspace was open.

After a meeting between the Civil Aviation Authority, Transport Secretary Lord Adonis and airlines, it was agreed to open most British air space, including all airports, from mid-morning yesterday.

British Airways chief executive Willie Walsh said it could take weeks for the airline industry to return to a normal level of operation.

"I do not believe it was necessary to impose a blanket ban on all UK airspace last Thursday," he said.

Mr Walsh said he was pleased with the decision to reopen airports, but added: "We will have plenty of time to look back on what could have been done better and I do believe lessons can be learned from this."

Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat transport spokesman, said Britain's cautious approach was at odds with the more "pragmatic" response of other European nations.

A spokesman for the British Airline Pilots Association said he was disappointed that the Government failed to act on its call for an aviation summit, which would have brought all the experts together.

David Henderson, of the Association of European Airlines, said Britain had taken a stricter approach than other parts of Europe.

London Mayor Boris Johnson questioned the science behind the lockdown.

"What I would really like to know is whether we are absolutely certain that the initial decision taken to close down UK aviation at this level of risk was correct."

University gives traveller chance to sit exams

University student Simon de Koning had his maths and history books packed for some mid-air study, after he missed three exams because of the volcanic eruption.

The 20-year-old, who attends Kellebeek College in the Netherlands, was feeling "so good" to finally be heading back home - and to have the chance to sit the missed exams.

"I had two maths exams this week and I've missed them. I've got a history one tomorrow but I'm going to miss that too.

"You can't do anything about it - you can't be all grumpy about a volcano."

Mr Koning was due to fly out on Saturday with his mother, Jan Bublitz.

But because of the delays in other airports, Ms Bublitz has decided to wait another week until she can join her son in the Netherlands.

"I can't risk getting stuck somewhere. If he gets stuck, he'll be okay sleeping on the floor," she said. "But I've got arthritis - I can't sleep on the floor."

The pair, who have family in Taupo, travelled to Auckland last Thursday for a flight on Saturday. However, they drove back to Taupo after finding out from a relative in the Netherlands about Iceland's volcanic eruption.

Late decision to risk it

A couple hoping to fly out to London last night only decided yesterday afternoon that they would take a chance and head to Auckland to catch the first flight out to England.

Nick Baumgren and Jenny Collyer were in Wanaka, in the South Island, when they decided about an hour before a flight to Auckland was to leave, that they would take the risk.

Mr Baumgren said: "We've been doing research all day, looking at all the [airline] updates and news reports, in case something happens. But so far, so good."

Mr Baumgren, who is from New Zealand and accompanying his girlfriend Ms Collyer to England, said they were one of the lucky ones.

"We have friends who are stuck in Vancouver and not due to fly out until May 6.

"It's sad that we're able to just go right through. It's just the luck of the draw."

Ms Collyer, who is from Essex, said she was still feeling "really apprehensive" about the flight being cancelled or about getting stuck at another airport.

"Obviously we're one of the lucky ones, but we've got each other, so whatever happens, it will be okay," she said.

- NZ Herald

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