I can prove that avoiding the ash cloud is possible
How do you get from Helsinki to Milan when the whole of the airspace in northern Europe is closed?
Well, I did it and what’s more — most of the journey was done by plane.
I’m the Reuters Italian sports reporter and I really needed to get back to Milan in time for this Tuesday’s big Champions League semi-final first leg soccer match between Inter and Barcelona.
On Friday I didn’t think it would be possible. A train between Helsinki and St Petersburg was already planned but then what to do?
St Petersburg airport was open even though Helsinki was closed. The problem was all the flights to Italy or anywhere nearby had been cancelled because they would have to fly through the volcanic ash.
I looked at possible train destinations from St Petersburg going south but given the huge distances and the fact I was on the last day of my complicated Russian visa, I decided to rule out that idea.
One of the only flights leaving St Petersburg was for Istanbul, not exactly near Milan but at least in southern Europe and below the ash cloud. But surely there wouldn’t be tickets two hours before departure and with so many people otherwise stranded?
Surprisingly there were seats, not too overpriced, and I was amazed when I boarded that the plane was not full.
So I now had a three-hour plane trip to decide what to do next. (I was glad of the distraction as I don’t like flying anyway and rumours abounded that the cloud was heading towards our flight path.)
I got to Istanbul at around 9pm and found an airport full of people lying on the floor, shouting, or pacing around. There were flights early in the morning to Rome (below the ash cloud unlike Milan) but after much trying they were all fully booked. I slept for a couple of hours in the airport.
An Internet search the next morning showed that there were seats on an imminent Istanbul to Athens flight and also places on a connecting flight for Rome. I hurriedly booked but on reaching the check-in, it turned out to be too good to be true.
The Athens to Rome flight was full and I’d been double-booked, but at least I could now get to Athens and then possibly take a lengthy boat ride to Italy if needed. In fact, there was another Rome flight from Greece the following morning so I snapped up that ticket hoping that the cloud would not envelope southern Europe as well.
So I spent a pleasurable evening in Athens, I place I had never been, and next morning made it to Rome. The only train to Milan with seats available was at 9pm so I headed out of an extremely busy Rome station to our Rome office to finally get some work done.
The Milan train was crowded and I had to stand up for three hours because someone was asleep in my seat, but at least I was finally home after over three days of travel.
PHOTO: People queue to buy tickets at Termini central train station in Rome April 17, 2010. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini