Monday, April 19, 2010

Above us only sky

DSC09285   What a different world it would be if that kind of travel suddenly became impossible, or even unreliable, once again.

Anne Appelbaum, Washington Post

There is a flawless blue sky outside again today, not a cloud or a jet trail to be seen.  The suitcase lies in the living room, half unpacked, awaiting developments.  I’ve already checked out: It’s much more fun enjoying springtime along the Maas than trying to follow the media chaos that passes for hard information and travel updates.

The activity in the volcano decreases, then increases again.  The wind shifts; the high-pressure stays in place.  The Dutch run a couple of test flight, Eurocontrol says that the results are meaningless when applied to thousands of planes. Schiphol moves estimated times for reopening back an hour, past sunset, into tomorrow.

In my opinion, this is a good time to enjoy the enforced vacation, slip out to the countryside with a good book, and catch up with friends and secondary work.

My brother and his family were stranded in Rome on Saturday when their flight cancelled.  They were rebooked for Thursday, but he was concerned about his daughter’s school and athletics, his work and the growing costs.  So he haunted the airport and learned that Air Canada was laying on a few extra airplanes to try to take advantage of the temporary ash window.  They weren’t well publicized so nobody had time to drive to Rome to fill them, so there were actually seats available for the 4:30 flight out.

I conferenced everyone in on Skype and we mediated among my brother, the recalcitrant agent at the SwissAir counter, and the wonderful and patient Ralph from Tampa representing Air Canada.

I learned how Telex works between agents as they talked (sending a note to FCOTRLX targets a specific printer – 3 letters (FCO) for the airport, two (TR) representing the ticket desk, two more for the printer), and the arcane rules for moving passengers and compensating carriers. 

In the end (two hours as the available Skype credit ticked ever downward) they were issued paper tickets and departed for Toronto on-time.

DSC09288 I’ve had less luck (or, considering the weather, maybe more). I’m still booked for Thursday departure to the US for a conference, but both departure and return look problematic.  I’m wondering how far to push things lest I get stranded in New Mexico.  The Cancun conference winds up tomorrow: they’ve asked me to make my presentation by WebEx.  It’s not my favorite medium, no eye contact and poor sound quality, losing sync with the slides and unable to hear questions.

The ferries and trains are doing record business, but, since P&O ferries is owned by Dubai World and NorfolkLines by Maersk, there’s no way to invest in their improved prospects.  A friend of mine wonders whether the ash will disrupt radio and satellite (“Call me if your phone stops working, okay?”). Maybe there will be a return to passenger ships; the Royal Navy is already evacuating Brits from Spain and cross-Channel.

Anne Appelbaum wonders if we aren’t, in effect, rolling the clock back a century to when the world was a much bigger place.

  Already, the past several days have revealed that we rely on air travel for far more things than we usually imagine. Things such as supermarkets -- all that fresh fruit -- and florists. Things such as symphony performances, professional soccer matches and international relations. In fact, "European integration," as we have come to understand it, turns out to be utterly dependent on reliable air travel. Over the past two decades -- almost without anyone really noticing -- Europeans have begun, in at least this narrow sense, to live like Americans: They move abroad for work, live for a while in one country and then move to another, eventually going home or maybe not. They do business in countries where they don't know the language, vacation in the Mediterranean and in the Baltic, visit their mothers on the weekends.

Maybe we all win if there’s just a bit quieter, slower, smaller, local world.  It reminds me of the campaigns for Lesser Seattle.



Invader_Stu said...

It's amazing how far reaching the affects of the volcano have been. It's fascinating in a way but I can say that because luckily I don't have any flights to catch.

Dave Hampton said...

It's a bit of a worry that there's no assurance of being able to get back...and this sort of uncertainty could go on for years.

I'm not sure that I know how to do business within a transportation system that only has a 50-50 chance of running when I book a week or two in advance. Do I just say "I'll do my best?" or always have a backup plan using WebEx?