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April 26, 2010

The View of the Volcano from Scotland: Ashes Pass

A coy shot from Buchanan Street in Glasgow—a city unaware of the volcanic delays (Nathan Borchelt)

The clouds have parted and the skies are clear—and it’s odd to write that and mean it 100 percent literally. After endless chaos that had me at the airport in Glasgow at 4 a.m. based on contradictory information via phone, email, and the net; after the volcano issued forth another burst of ash into European sky the day before; after hearing that flights were still on, then all airports in the UK were closed, then that they opened; after packing for the fourth time in seven days and going to the airport to witness stranded families and irate patriarchs trying to find shelter for his family (which spawned three generations, all clustered around their suitcases); after seeing a boy of nine crying inconsolably about just wanting to go home and a U.S. traveler who drove from London to Glasgow only to drive back ranting about just wanting to “get off this damn rock”; I have an exit out.

A week and a day after I thought I’d be home. After offers of departing Glasgow on Tuesday, then a chance to depart Edinburgh airport after hopping a train for a Sunday departure, I was able to wrangle a flight on the 7 a.m. out of Glasgow to Heathrow, then to DC on United.

The stranded colleagues on this trip faced similar fates—as did most folks trapped in our out of the EU. A seat availability fire sale. Hopes and promises and backup plans and crossed fingers and near-religious tune-ins to Sky News and the BBC. But planes are flying, people are applauding at the airports, and minus the always-chaotic hassles of Heathrow, my bed and my home and freedom are 14 hours away from when I first stepped into Scotland.

Mind you, Scotland is a heavenly place to be trapped. And Visit Scotland, our host from the start of this mad journey, has proven that their resources and their Rolodex are near-endless. They helped find us hotels, sympathized with endless pints of cast ales, and made sure that the stranded were never without event or activity, from Edinburg to Loch Ness to Glencoe, the latter being one of the most scenic locales I’ve witnessed. If they can handle this, they can definitely help find you an escape to Scotland, minus all the volcanic activity.

During that time, the stranded became a default gang. The vet journalists from Malibu and Colorado, the young and promising writer from Los Angeles, our road-weathered, endlessly resourceful and bright PR rep. It’s easy to make the most of a city like Glasgow, even with all the uncertainties and endless packing. But it’s far easier when you fall into a group that helps you retain your sanity and listen to your endless travails about talking to airlines, the hotel concierge, or why the laundry machine takes four hours to dry clothes that you really don’t want see—much less wear—for another month.

My first visit to Glasgow Airport yesterday morning offered hope. Despite the irate U.S. traveler who’d ranted only because he couldn’t keep it in anymore and the stranded family, the airport staff had sent out an army of employees uniformed in bright yellow traffic guard vests, armed with clipboards that documented the canceled and on-schedule flights—a godsend as the departure boards were rows of seizure-inducing flashing lights announcing routes were either canceled or to check with the airline. Those kind gentlemen were there before most of the airline employees, and in addition to helping me realize my 6:30 flight to Heathrow was indeed canceled, they helped that stranded family find a place to bed down till their cloud of ash finally passed. It’s perfect evidence of the Scottish’s famed kindness and generosity. And it’s likely the one thing I miss once I finally get home. That and the profusion of cask ales.


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Related Topics: Dispatches from the Road · European Travel


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