Monday, April 19, 2010


Ήφαιστος, the Greek god of fire, volcanoes and technology, is having fun at an awful lot of people's expense. Trying to get back to the Lands of the Sand is proving to be an exercise in frustration. Why? Well, apart from UK airports being closed, airlines aren't answering their phones. Too busy with their inflatable dartboards, perhaps. More likely busily selling seats to new passengers instead of putting existing customers whose flights were cancelled on them.

Of course I realise the problem, and also how even once the ash cloud eventually disperses there will be thousands of aircraft in the wrong place and getting back to normal will take weeks or months.

I've been examining other options. How about travel to a less-affected airport, such as Rome, Barcelona, Madrid, Athens or Istanbul? An InterRail international train ticket would set me back the order of £500, and this assumes that I'd be able to get a seat on a train anyway.

So I checked Hertz car rental. Seemingly, there are numerous foreign-registered cars in various locations in the UK that resulted from one-way car hire. The website says to Ring this number and...etc, etc... So I did, and got a recorded message to the effect that no-one can be arsed to answer the phone. Checking with Hertz's main number, I learned that a one-way hire to Rome would set me back £1200 - that's over AED6000 - in addition to the normal hire charges, ferry or Channel Tunnel fares, fuel and hotels. And this is to do Hertz a favour by returning one of their vehicles to its country of origin. In keeping with Hertz's apparent policy of extracting micturation, I was charged over £50 per day for the additional two days I had the Group 1 billy-basic car, and yes I did inform them in advance. The vehicle is now back at Gatwick where it can gather dust and ash.

So I've concluded that the only realistic option is to wait it out in Blighty. Checking the Met Office map, if everything went even more pear-shaped I'd be in a foreign country where I don't speak the language (Italy, Spain, Greece, Turkey) and stuck at an airport just as the ash cloud parked itself directly overhead. See how close the cloud currently is to Istanbul and Rome.

I can't even work remotely. None of my employer's UK offices are anywhere nearby, and I object to adding to my frustration by living in a hotel in order to work. Not that I'd be able to function without my computer, books and files. It will come as no surprise to learn that I did not take my office computer with me on holiday. Consequently even working from 'home' fails to be an option.

Looks like I'll simply have to have a holiday, punctuated by frequent reference to the news websites and - joy and delight - listening to Qatar Airways' telephone tree.

Edited 23 April to add:

The skies were reopened to traffic on Wednesday 21st April, and I eventually got through to Qatar Airways to book on to Thursday's flight. Amazingly, there were scores of empty seats on the aircraft. I'm relieved to be back.

And I even have five days of annual leave remaining.



Keefieboy said...

Feeling your pain, Goat. It's not helped by the fact that numerous European airlines have run test flights without any probs. I reckon there's one asshole in NATS hoping to make a name for himself (a la Newt Gingrich/Joe McCarthy). I'd encourage you to get a bus down to Madrid, but I don't think there's direct flights to Sandlands from here.

Mme Cyn said...

Even indirect would be fine -- Madrid to Cairo, then Air Arabia to SHJ? But he is right -- he could just leave the UK in time to have the flights open up again and then he will have missed the one he should have gotten on. *Sigh* Nothing to be done.

Sirrah said...

Would anyone notice if you're not in work Goat? Would productivity actually go down? Only joking! Hope you get back soon safe and sound.

nzm said...

Just sent you an email that we received from Hertz with updated info.

alexander... said...

We got back Friday after a week of the same. Aer Lingus, in our case, had a website that didn't let you rebook cancelled flights and a call centre that did not once pick up the phone in a week of calls - just advised us that 'dis office is now closed'. Every rebooking had to be done by travelling to the airport we were being told to steer clear of - until eventually we did that to be told we could fly out 20 minutes later!!!

Much madness - but we're very glad we had one lot of da Oirish inlaws 30 mins away from Dublin and the other lot 30 from Heathrow!


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