As chaos ensued in airports around the world this week due to countless delays and cancellations caused by the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull, I enjoyed my last few days in Accra, Ghana, before attempting to return to London. When I reached the airport Tuesday night, I was told that I could either take my spot on my connecting flight to Amsterdam and then find my own way home from there (with the airline not liable for any costs incurred by my transport beyond Amsterdam) or I could wait in Accra until the next available flight that they could guarantee me a seat on back to London on May 3.
Seeing the lines of people who had been stuck for the previous five days, I opted to take the flight to Amsterdam and found a bus back to London the following evening, counting myself lucky to have been on one of the first running flights to Amsterdam since the disruptions caused by the volcanic ash cloud. Although it cost me a bit extra to get home by the bus, my experience was relatively positive in comparison to many passengers who remain stranded in airports around the world as airlines struggle to meet the demand for flights back to the United Kingdom.
Now that the ash cloud has cleared enough to allow for most flights to and from the U.K., one would think that those passengers who have been stranded would be able to get back safely and quickly. However, this is not the case for everyone.
Those passengers who have not yet found their way home by means of alternative transportation and are still waiting for flights are, in some cases, being left stranded for much longer than expected. British Airways is a prime example of this, a case in which passengers who are still stranded are receiving no preference compared to new, paying passengers on the market when it comes to giving out the remaining seats on scheduled flights. So those who are left waiting can either take their chances and wait until there is a flight with empty seats or spend money to purchase a new seat on a flight home. The latter promises a cost of more than 2,000 pounds (more than $3,000 U.S.) in most cases, with passengers unsure if they will be reimbursed in the future for the price of rebooking such a flight.
Such situations have moved beyond being merely an inconvenience for some passengers and are instead now a medical problem as medication runs out and doctor’s appointments are being missed. The Guardian reported one passenger stranded in Beijing “suffers from diabetes and who is running out of medication and money. Moreover, BA has lost his suitcase with his spare needles. ... There was another passenger undergoing cancer treatment, whose medical needs were also ignored.”
Although only time will tell how the situation pans out for passengers and airlines alike, one thing is clear — with so many unhappy customers facing problems related to this disaster, airlines need to do something differently to prevent similar conditions in the future.