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Flight delays for Icelandic volcano strand British family in Charles County

in limbo: Fabian Forde and his sons are staying at a local Comfort Suites. He's already spent $1,500 and may not be able to get a flight home until May 1 or later.
in limbo: Fabian Forde and his sons are staying at a local Comfort Suites. He's already spent $1,500 and may not be able to get a flight home until May 1 or later. (Maria Roach)

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By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Fabian Forde can't remember when his original flight back to England was supposed to be. The 11th? Wait, maybe it was the 12th. "I'm so confused right now," he says. "Everyone's been throwing numbers at me."

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Forde, 28, and his two children, ages 4 and 5, have been waiting -- and waiting some more -- to get home ever since a volcano in Iceland started belching smoke and ash into the jet stream and airports across Europe began putting CANCELED signs next to hundreds of flights. They're still waiting, stuck in a motel room in Waldorf.

You think you've had travel hassles? Consider Forde's non-odyssey. He's one of perhaps millions of people throughout Europe and North America who have been inconvenienced by days of volcano-related travel chaos.

Thanks to dozens of backed-up and canceled flights, Virgin Atlantic, the airline Forde is booked on, has told him that the next available flight from Dulles International Airport is April 25. Maybe. More likely: May 1. Unless, that is, Forde is willing to pay about 6,000 British pounds ($9,200) to buy three precious tickets for an earlier flight on another airline.

Forde, a deputy manager of an electrical supply company located outside London, doesn't have that kind of money.

Forde and his family came to the States for a holiday that began on April 2. Midway into the trip, a relative in Jamaica died, and Forde's wife, Jade, flew there to attend the funeral, intending to rejoin her husband and children in America.

The eruption's disruption caused a delay in her trip back to the U.S. She was scheduled to fly to Washington on Monday night.

Forde didn't bother going to the airport last Friday for the trip back to Heathrow; news reports about delays were already rife by then. Instead, Forde called the airline to make other arrangements. After an hour on hold, he was cut off. After another hour on hold, the airline told him it couldn't help. He'd have to call his travel agent. Which turned out to be another dead end.

Now he's ready to erupt.

"I'm really frustrated," he said Monday afternoon from his room at the Comfort Suites. "I'm just about at the end of my tether. . . . I feel very let down by my airline. None of this is any fault of my own. No one seems to be able to do a thing."

Forde has family in Prince George's County, but staying with them is out of the question. His children are afraid of his relatives' dog and cat, and Forde is allergic to them. Hence, the Comfort Suites; Forde has booked the room for seven nights and is considering reserving it for an additional seven.

CONTINUED     1        >

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