As the situation progresses, it’s come a time when I need to make a decision. Should I continue to wait for British airspace to open or should I start working on getting home by ground?
My decision on Saturday was to wait. My flight to Cairo that Saturday was cancelled because of the volcanic ashes. I was able to get a another ticket from London to Cairo on Tuesday, April 20. Hopefully the airspace would open by then.
During the past two days as I roamed around London I came across so many people in my same situation. The tourists in London were all being held hostage by the angry volcano, Eyja (Do not expect me to ever know its full name. What kind of parent names their son Eyjafjallajoekull?). The buzz on the street was how do we get back home? One American journalist I know from Twitter had started considering making reservations on a trans-Atlantic cruise ship to the U.S. Some people decided to wait it out. Today at the train station in London I saw hundreds of people with their suitcases basically waiting to find a way to get on a train to mainland Europe. Yesterday on the underground I met a young British girl with a huge backpack on her shoulders all red in the face and sweaty. I learned she was stuck in Paris trying to get home and finally managed to catch a train to London. The wife and two young children of a British colleague are stuck in Portugal, where they were spending their Easter holiday. And all my colleagues who came to London for a meeting are stuck. Today, a Swedish colleague told me, “I’m going to get home by train, by ferry, by bike. Whatever it takes I will get home.” She was not going to wait for the airspace to open. At dinner, I overheard a mother telling her 7-year-old son that they were trying to get back to New York.
It’s everywhere in London. Everywhere people trying to get home.
Around noon today, as I continued to follow the developments, I started feeling more strongly than ever that I should try to get to the mainland. Things were not looking up. I cannot stay in London for days or perhaps longer. I need to get back to my kids.
I decided I was going to do everything in my power to get a train ticket to mainland Europe. I went to the train station but found the ticket office closed at 4pm. Their website had announced they would close at 5pm. When I asked a man standing at the door he said that the office had to close because there were just too many people for the office to handle (I agree. The logic is faulty.). He said if I had come an hour earlier I would have seen extremely long lines in front of the office. Now that I was there after they had closed, I still saw hundreds of people sitting on the floor in front of the office. A television camera was asking a man how he planned on getting back to the US. The man suggested I try to book online. I had already tried that and failed. I thus assumed that the system was down or that they were not accepting online booking. The man told me that this happens because there are so many people trying to book at the same time and that I should continue to try and that eventually I should be able to make a booking. So I went back to my hotel and tried and tried for half an hour. Eventually I was able to make a reservation on the Eurostar to Paris for tomorrow at 11:30am.
So this is the situation I’m in:
1. Either I wait until Tuesday to see what happens. If the airspace opens I have a direct flight ready for me from London to Cairo and I fly in comfort. If it doesn’t, I’m at zero and I need to figure out how to get back to Cairo. Either wait again or find another way. Either way, if my flight on Tuesday is cancelled, I’ll have to compete with hundreds of thousands of other people for seats. The backlog could last days or longer.
2. I go to Paris and from there try to find a way to get to Madrid, which has a functioning airport. At Madrid I try to find a flight to Cairo. The risks here are getting to Paris and not finding transportation to Madrid for days (I hear even car rentals have gone berserk) or getting to Madrid and not finding flights to Egypt for days. Another risk is that I find out that flights were allowed to leave London on Tuesday while I’m stuck somewhere in the middle of Europe with nowhere to go and no one to help me out. The upside is that I might just manage to make it home, in which case I can gloat while fellow travelers are still stuck in London waiting for the airspace to open.
As I watch the news, it seems that although some airports are starting to open in Europe, Heathrow Airport is still keeping on the safe side. It has cancelled all flights until Monday at 7pm. That’s 24 hours before my flight. The likelihood that my flight will leave on time seems to be small to me. But you never know.
I’m bending toward leaving for Paris and risking it. To me, it will at least feel like I’m getting somewhere. Here in London, I’m beginning to feel claustrophobic. I’m stuck on an island with minimal means to get off. If I make it to mainland Europe, at least I have options.
Decisions, decisions, decisions. I hope God gives me a clear head and heart and that I make a good decision about what to do.
Continue to follow me on Twitter @NadiaE for updates.