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WELLESELY, Mass. — I'm stuck. I'm stranded by what certainly qualifies legally as an act of God. The Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland erupted Wednesday and a massive ash cloud is now drifting over the British Isles and Scandinavia.
|Aerial shot of a plume of steam rising 6,700 meters from a crater under about 200 meters of ice at the Eyjafjallajokull glacier in southern Iceland, April 14, 2010.
(Icelandic Coast Guard/Arni Saeberg/Handout/Reuters)
The result is that all British airports — including London's Heathrow, the world's busiest international airport — are closed until at least tomorrow morning. I am in America and due to fly back to my home in London tomorrow. Now what?
I've been stranded before, usually because bullets have been fired and international relief flights have been suspended, but there is a drill. You have to accept your fate, know that you will be sleeping on floors and make sure you have enough money for beers while you wait (if they are available). I'm assuming that at JFK, from where I'm due to fly back, that won't be a problem. You have to enter a different kind of airport mindset than that of Pico Iyer or Tyler Brule. Random thoughts about the country where you are stranded will keep you amused or alert. Here are some that have already come to mind:
1. Thank God for the internet. Sitting in a hotel room I would never have found out about the situation. CNN and Fox are gabbling on still about trivia. The fact that an airport, which handles 1,200 international flights a day, is shut down and hasn't quite made it to the top of the bulletins is amazing. If it happens elsewhere I guess it isn't news. Luckily there is the internet. I was getting my morning British paper fix when the news came up. Now when I go into Google mail I'm getting ads for tours to see the Iceland volcano (just joking but trust me it will happen).
2. As an ex-pat I see America differently than people who live here all the time and I have noted for a while the over-complicated nature of most business systems in the U.S. but ain't nothing more complicated that American Airlines phone system ... and bellowing at the voice simulator that you want a real person to talk to in this emergency just doesn't get you a real person. Twenty minutes I waited for a human being who heard my question and put me over to international ... a completely different set of voice simulators ... and all this before I had coffee!
But one shouldn't disrespect voice simulating computers. My wife in London was able to get a human being on the phone quickly, probably a German living in Dublin at the American Airlines European call center. "Bedlam" was the way this person described the situation at Heathrow. Best advice, keep checking back throughout the day. Will do, you betcha.
3. Do not think too hard about what you need to get done back home. ... It is not going to get done now ... and do not think too much about the last email you had from your wife about your 4-and-a-half-year-old. "Romola misses you very much. She had a fantastic swimming lesson this morning, floating and kicking (feet off the bottom) and actually swimming! She cannot wait to show you."
Baby, you will have to wait.
More on the ash cloud.