Glimpse of sun through empty skies

Stranded news editor dares to hope of returning home days after UK airspace closure.

    Thousands of travellers had been left stranded after volcanic ash grounded planes  [AFP]

    The raincoats prove to be a waste of euros as the sun finally shows its face in southern Spain.

    The beaches have a welcoming glint, and the local cafes are starting to come back to life. There's not a cloud in the sky, but this is now day six, and are there any planes?

    After an interesting day at the British consulate in Malaga, I finish reading Little Miss Giggles for the third time, tuck my little girl in bed and adopt my familiar seat in front of the TV waiting for the update from NATS to see if we will ever get home.

    My husband and I choke on our drinks as we see that the normal airspace closure extension is replaced by "All UK Airports To Start Opening".

    This is fantastic news! An end is in sight - be it an end in possibly eight days' time for us - but we may be saved the agony of waiting for members of the British government to personally row over to Spain and pick us up.

    Because, from what the consulate had told us earlier in the day, that seems as realistic a prospect as anything else they were musing.

    No onward plans

    Despite Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, announcing to the world that Madrid would become a hub for travellers trying to return to the UK, it became quite clear to us that there were no actual onward plans to get anyone home from there.

    "Should we not register with you, so that my family and I are at least on the list of people who need to get home?" I asked the consulate lady hopefully.

    "No, we tried putting a list together yesterday, but frankly there were too many people on it for us to deal with so we scrapped that," she replied.

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    "Oh, what should we do then?"

    "Madam, I would advise you to stay put, with a flight booked for Wednesday the 28. You are a lot better off than most people in this room."

    I looked around the room where my husband was valiantly trying to stop my daughter from smearing a custard croissant across the chairs and saw what was essentially bemused but calm chaos.

    No one was shouting, no one seemed particularly angry and no one was looking for one person/body to blame for it all.

    People were simply looking for guidance, of which there was very little.

    It was a Blitz-style atmosphere where people were happily regaling each other with their tales of cancellations, re-bookings, looking at car hire, hiring coaches and getting groups together on Facebook, getting passports stolen and wondering if they should actually start to walk home.

    The most common thread was the treatment they had from some airlines.

    I ascertained by word of mouth that some low-cost airlines were doing well - whereas Ryanair (our airline) was refusing to pay out accommodation for their stranded passengers.

    On top of that, one couple I met had approached Ryanair at the airport about this, to which Ryanair printed off a four-page document giving their rules and regulations, saying that they are not obliged to pay.

    Not desperately reassuring

    Two pages gave their rules and regulations, the last two pages gave all the personal flight details, names, addresses, dates of birth, and passport numbers of all passengers on one of their cancelled flights. Not desperately reassuring.

    We left the consulate none the wiser but ever more grateful for our families' hospitality.

    Things haven't been easy for my aunt, whose electricity failed and generator then blew up, all within two days of hearing that her house guests were not in fact leaving - her own holiday to the UK having been cancelled too!

    Exhausted by the day, my daughter informed us that Happy Feet, her new toy penguin, was tired and that his head hurt. "So does mine, sweetheart, so does mine," I replied.

    So, the waiting may appear to be over in some respects, but the hoping has only just begun.

    We now begin the painstaking task of continually calling and logging on to all airline websites to see if any availabilities will suddenly pop up.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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