The Eruption of the volcano in Iceland continues to make the news, but the emphasis seems to be on how much money the airlines lost, but not on the financial discomfort of the airline passengers!
While we are sensitive to the plight of the airlines and realize that their losses due to schedule disruption are staggering for an industry that has suffered during the recent economic downturn, the plight of passengers during this incident is equally important. We are not sure that all of the numbers we have seen for cancelled flights are correct. In addition, we cannot imagine that the airlines are losing as much money as stated in the press, since the loss numbers per day should equate with revenues on days when their planes are flying and the numbers just don’t seem to work out.
However, we have read that 95,000 flights were cancelled due to the danger of flying through clouds filled with ash from the erupting volcano. If we calculate that just 50 people were scheduled to fly on each of these flights, then we could safely assume that at least 4.75 million passengers had their travel plans changed by the eruptions. Let’s figure that half of these were starting their journey and could return to their homes disappointed that they were not able to start their travels. This means that over 2.375 million passengers were stranded away from home, waiting for a return flight to the airport from which they departed (or one nearby).
Certainly, some number of passengers might have been able to remedy this situation by taking alternative transport. However, there were other situations, where the only remedy was air transportation, for example for long-distance travelers returning to the United States, Australia or other countries. In addition, not all travelers have the financial resources to buy a train or a boat ticket after they have paid for an airline ticket and paid for hotels and meals during their travels. Instead, they simply have to wait until they can be accommodated by their airline on a future flight to the desired destination.
The problem here is that if you have purchased a ticket for air travel and the airline cancels your flight, you go to the back of the queue for the next flight to your destination. Yes, you read that right. Passengers who purchased tickets (have reservations) for the next flight out are given precedence over those who were ticketed for a previous flight that was cancelled.
In fact, many airlines were recommending that holders of tickets for cancelled flight book new reservations (buy new tickets) on another flight and submit their old tickets for reimbursment due to the cancellation. We don’t know about you, but we have never seen the reimbursement process take less than six weeks. It is likely that some travelers will spend several days, or perhaps longer, waiting to be rebooked on a flight, because they cannot afford to purchase another ticket.
Now you know why some news reports indicate that it may take weeks to clear up the travel problems generated by the volcano’s eruptions!
We understand the logic of the airlines decision, but suggest that the strategy was put in place to deal with momentary and minor changes in schedule due to weather or aircraft requiring service, not for major disruptions such as volcanic ash. Perhaps this incident will lead to a change in the rules. We certainly hope so. Of course, the airlines are not do be undone – this morning we noticed that some are considering suing the national air traffic control agencies for banning flights when it was not really necessary. Seems a dangerous plank to walk, but there is no shame when you are an airline.
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