Travelers at Dulles struggle to get to Europe

The volcano in southern Iceland is still spewing smoke and lava, but the ash plume is lower than it previously was, posing less threat to high-flying aircraft.
By Kafia A. Hosh
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 20, 2010; 10:42 AM

Lines at the Air France and Lufthansa ticket desks at Dulles International Airport were several people deep Monday afternoon as many travelers waited to be rebooked on flights to Europe.

The news for the stranded was improving after ash from an Icelandic volcano that erupted April 14 closed skies across the continent. Airspace throughout northern and central Europe was gradually reopening, but officials say London airports are likely to remain closed. A new wave of ash forced Norway to close airports on the southwestern coast.

Johan Karlsson waited at the end of the Air France ticketing line Monday. The 49-year-old operations manager was anxious to get home to Finland after a weeklong business trip to New York.

His original flight from New York to Amsterdam was canceled Friday. Instead of waiting another week for the next available flight, Karlsson flew to Washington because "I wanted to see if there were any other options," he said. There were. He was able to rebook for a flight to Paris on Monday, where he would connect to Helsinki.

"As long as we can get over the Atlantic, we're almost home," Karlsson said.

But while in line, he was faced with more bad news. The flight to Paris was being rerouted to Nice.

"It's not over," Karlsson sighed, staring at the long line in front of him.

Tuesday most airports in France were open to limited traffic, and Finnish aviation authorities, after opening airspace briefly Monday, shut down flying again until 2 a.m. Wednesday.

Anthony Meunier and Christophe Piot sprang to action Friday when they learned their flight to Munich was canceled. They quickly re-scheduled for a Monday flight to Madrid, where they could connect to their final destination in Marseille. The goal: to avoid northern Europe.

"We checked what could be the best solution for us," said Piot, 45. "Today it's really a mess. There's nothing before the 27th," he said.

The two men, who work for a flooring company, had spent the past week in the Cleveland area on business. After their flight out of Dulles was canceled Friday, they decided to make the most of their predicament. They stayed at a nearby hotel and toured Washington over the weekend, visiting the White House, the U.S. Capitol and the Smithsonian museums.

"It's a pity because we can't see our families, but it's not so bad," said Meunier, 34.

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