Page last updated at 17:10 GMT, Tuesday, 20 April 2010 18:10 UK

Volcano cloud as it happened: 20 April

A passenger jet leaves Newcastle Airport
This plane left Newcastle Airport bound for Sharm el-Sheikh International Airport in Egypt

Welcome to our as-it-happened coverage of the travel chaos caused by the volcanic ash cloud over northern Europe. We have been following developments with breaking news, your e-mails and Tweets, experts' advice and insights from BBC correspondents. All times are BST.

1832 BA tells the BBC it still plans to land more than a dozen long-haul flights that are currently en route at Heathrow, despite the fact airspace over southern England remains closed. It is unclear what conversations have been taking place between BA and Nats.

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1803 Trevor from Bristol says:

I am amazed that everyone seems to think they can only get back to the UK via Calais. There are numerous ports on the coast of France which would be a shorter journey on a coach/taxi/train and less costly. Also, there is not a crisis. We just do not have planes. Has anyone checked the air quality for emissions from planes and compared it to when they are working?


1752 andylockran tweets:

Iceland go bankrupt, then manage to set their island on fire. Insurance scam written all over it. Read andylockran's tweets

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1750 Sarah Simpson, from Galloway, says:

My husband is stuck in New Zealand. He was supposed to fly home on Sunday but has been given a revised flight date of 6 May by his airline! He is a farmer and has only arranged cover for the 12 days he was supposed to be away, not the month they are now proposing. His insurance is giving £100 for "delayed departure".

1742 Thomas Cook Group says it will undertake more than 80 flights on Tuesday across its European markets, and is looking to increase this number significantly on Wednesday.

1740 Downing St confirms the UK's emergency committee Cobra is meeting now.

1730 The ultimate geography field trip? Forty pupils from a school in Hertfordshire were as close to the volcano as you could get.

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1725Matt Hodgson from Crowthorne, Berkshire, says:

I had to record my best man speech outside the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I'm gutted I can't make my best mate's wedding on Friday. My girlfriend and I are hoping to fly to Frankfurt on Saturday and make our way over land to Calais. Our airline has been useless supplying us information on returning to the UK. We went to the Embassy in Kuala Lumpur and they could offer us no support apart from a telephone call home. To add to my misery my employers are removing my time out here from my salary.

Pallab Ghosh

1700 BBC science correspondent Pallab Ghosh says:

The British Geological Society is reporting the eruptions from the volcano have become less explosive and so the ash isn't being sent so high into the atmosphere. That's good news because that means that any new ash will fall into the sea before reaching UK airspace. So if this situation continues, flights could begin to resume soon as the ash currently in the atmosphere begins to clear - which could be within the next few days.


1653 aliguana tweets:

Now it's "The Ash Crisis!"... erm... no. No one has died. No one is starving. People and goods are still moving. Just not flying. Read aliguana's tweets

1650: More on the coach saga. The Foreign Office says about 150 coaches are being gathered in Britain to travel to Madrid, with the first 50 leaving on Wednesday. More coaches are being gathered in Spain. Officials say the fleet is primarily for Britons flying to the "Madrid hub" from outside Europe.

1645: Change in direction? That's been the case for thousands of travellers trying to make their way home but what about the weather and the all-important wind. A BBC meteorologist has been taking a look at where the ash cloud might be going next.

1636: The MV Hamnavoe, which usually operates a service between Scrabster in Caithness and Stromness in Orkney, has been diverted to Bergen in Norway to pick up stranded travellers.

1635 Plane manufacturer Airbus and holiday operator Thomson are among those who have completed successful test flights. Thomson flew six aircraft from Iceland and reported no technical difficulties or damage to the planes.

1630 Ryanair will not operate any flights between Ireland and the UK until at least Friday. Airline boss Michael O'Leary said he hoped the move would free up aircraft to begin flying stranded passengers in and out of mainland Europe on Thursday. All of Ryanair's northern Europe services are cancelled until 1300 on Thursday.

1620 Stockholm airport is to close at 1900 until early Wednesday.

1615 A nice statistic here: The Port of Dover in Kent says it has handled more than 250,000 passengers since the ash crisis began. This is the equivalent of 600 Boeing 747 jumbo jets.

1600 Foreign Secretary David Miliband has been talking about the "Madrid hub" for Britons coming in from far-flung destinations.

He said there was only a "trickle" of Britons so far and more than 100 coaches were being dispatched. But he reiterated the message which the government has been at pains to stress all day - people should try to make their way to northern ports in France. Mr Miliband says two Royal Navy ships are on stand-by should they be needed at the Channel.

Also, Europe Minister Chris Bryant is heading to Madrid to oversee the operation - doubt he is flying there, though.

1545 So to clarify, just airspace covering Aberdeen, Inverness, Edinburgh and Newcastle airports, as well as Glasgow and Teesside airports, will be open for flights from 1900 until 0100 on Wednesday. But passengers should still check with their airline. For instance, bmi has now cancelled all its flights to and from UK airports until 2359.


1544 The situation here in the UK and elsewhere in Europe depends very much on what the volcano in Iceland is doing. Icelandic meteorologist Halldor Bjornsson told the BBC World Service about its latest rumblings - have a listen.

1530 Another sporting story emerging from the ash chaos - the British judo team are trying to get to Vienna for a competition on Thursday. They have given up waiting for flights to get back to normal, so are making their way by coach.

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1525 Emma O'Connor from Ruislip says:

My daughter and her swimming club were stuck in Majorca. Easyjet gave them the 28th for their re-scheduled flight. They've given up on flying home. They went to see the British Consul yesterday and although they were understanding, they said there was nothing they could do. My daughter is the youngest in the party, she is only 11. They have now decided to take a ferry to Barcelona and a coach to Calais where we hope they will get a ferry to Dover. It's been a nightmare but hopefully an end is in sight.

1510 The UK's air traffic agency adds in its 1500 update statement that the situation involving the volcano "continued to be variable".

1503 Flight restrictions will remain in the UK until at least 0100 tomorrow, except for parts of Scotland and part of northern England, air traffic control company Nats says.

A British family boards HMS Albion at Santander on 20 April 2010
This British family got to go home on a Royal Navy warship from Spain

1451 With the latest news that airspace will remain open around Glasgow and Newcastle until midnight, three Thomas Cook Airlines rescue flights have departed from Glasgow to pick up passengers from Cancun in Mexico, Heraklion in Crete and Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt. One flight has also departed from Newcastle to pick up holidaymakers in Lanzarote.

Providing airspace remains open, these flights will all return on Tuesday night along with 10 other Thomas Cook Airlines flights from short and mid-haul destinations, repatriating around 2,500 passengers in total.

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1448Shaq from Grays, Essex (who has clearly forgotten about Fulham) says:

Should the flights not return to normal by tomorrow, a group of us are driving down to Madrid for the Liverpool match. It's going to take about 18 hours to get there, but some of us have to be there to cheer the Red Army and keep the British flag flying in Europe!

1444 Don't forget that air traffic control body Nats will be giving its latest update at about 1500 - we'll bring it to you as soon as we have it.

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1438 Faye Chadwick from Cheshire says:

I am currently stuck in Krakow, Poland, with 14 others, having gone on a school trip to Auschwitz last week. We only intended to stay for three days, but we have now been here a week and have no idea when we will be getting back. Luckily, the school's insurance policy means we can stay in a hotel, and have money to buy essentials.

1433 A bit more on those coaches in the Spanish capital - a spokeswoman for the British consulate in Madrid said more staff were on their way to Madrid Airport to set up reception centres to process passengers and get them on to the coaches.

1428 In the European Parliament, MEPs have taken it in turns to urge the EU to do more to help thousands of stranded passengers.

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1416Sue Conway from Congleton says:

We have been giving our son help with information, booking tickets etc from the UK as he tried to get home from visiting his girlfriend who was working in Lisbon. I am staggered that the BBC, Foreign Office etc are not reporting updates to the French Rail Strike. This is not helpful!

Aerial view taken on April 18, 2010 shows Lufthansa airplanes standing on the tarmac at the airport in Frankfurt

1413 Eurolines will be adding extra coaches but says its services are generally running as normal.

1409 The Foreign Office says consular staff in Madrid have told them that there are 100 coaches available to take stranded passengers to ferry ports.

And the BBC's Sarah Rainsford, at Madrid Airport, said:

"There's no sign of the coaches yet but I have spoken to the embassy and I have been told those coaches will materialise - some of them coming from the UK, some from Spain. They are saying people who are held up outside Europe are asked to hold on for the moment, to await further information and contact their airline. They are being told that Foreign Office staff are heading to both Spain and France to set up reception centres to deal with passengers who will eventually be diverted to Madrid and then taken on from here by coach and train to northern France."

1404 Ferry companies operating out of Dover will be allowed to take 10% more passengers on their larger ships to help ease the current transport crisis.

According to David Osler, reporter for Lloyd's List, this suspends "whole chunks of the Safety of Life at Sea Convention, introduced after the Titanic disaster of 1912".

1356 And while you're at it, why not check out this video footage and get up close and personal with an exploding volcano?

1351 Ever wondered what life would be like if the Wright brothers hadn't ever got off the ground and planes just didn't exist? Read this and find out.

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1343 Mark Wood from Kingston on Thames writes:

I needed to get back from Copenhagen as my pregnant wife was struggling looking after our sick little girl. Hired a car, bought satnav and drove from Denmark to France, Boulogne. Twelve hour drive. No hotel, so sleep in car. Dropped car off and got a taxi to the ferry port, knowing it does not accept foot passengers. Persuaded a chap from the Czech Republic to add me as a passenger to his van, and off we were home to Dover. Taxi home/straight to hospital see my family. Certainly recommend other going to Boulgone-Sur-Mer, and asking a British car to add them as a passenger. This incurs a small fee.

1337 Lord Adonis, Secretary of State for Transport, says the safety of air passengers remains "my paramount concern". Read more on that here.


1330EmilyBroth tweets:

I just called Foreign Office helpline. Their advice for people outside EU was "get fam and friends to send u money" Useless! Read EmilyBroth's tweets

1319 The BBC's Hugh Schofield writes from France that tens of thousands of French people are abroad and their government has made it quite clear that getting those people back is a priority.

1304 BA says 12 long-haul flights are currently en route to Heathrow, from Beijing, Singapore and the US west coast. A spokeswoman said the airline had contingency plans for each flight if Heathrow was still closed but would not say which airports it would use instead.

1301 Norfolkline Ferries is running coaches for foot passengers travelling to and from France on Tuesday and Wednesday - it is not normally able to carry foot passengers on the Dover-Dunkirk route.


1233 A new £500m luxury cruise ship is putting its inaugural celebrations on hold to come to the rescue of stranded holidaymakers. Tour operators have asked Celebrity Eclipse to head to Bilbao in Spain to pick up about 2,000 people, who can enjoy a real lawn measuring nearly half an acre, as well as bars, 10 restaurants, a casino, a theatre and swimming and spa pools.

1226 LD Lines ferry company has limited foot passenger capacity on its crossings to the UK from Le Havre and Dieppe but there is some car space available. More spaces will be available over the coming days. There are vehicle spaces on its Dover-Boulogne and Ramsgate-Ostend services.

Sanjoy Majumder

1219 The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder, at Delhi airport, says:

There are many people camped outside the main terminal building. If you look at the flight monitors all you see are flights delayed indefinitely, flights cancelled - nobody quite seems to know when this is going to end. There's a tremendous backlog of passengers waiting to leave.

1212 Ryanair says it will operate additional flights on Wednesday and Thursday from the Canary Islands to allow stranded passengers to at least reach mainland Europe. But onward travel from Madrid will be at each passenger's expense, the airline warns.

1207 Brittany Ferries tells the BBC it has no space on any Spanish services until 29 April. It urged people not to go to Santander as there are no more spaces on commercial ferries. It suggests that foot passengers wanting to sail into Portsmouth should consider the French ports of Caen, Cherbough, Roscoff and St Malo.

1158 EasyJet has just announced it is cancelling flights to and from northern Europe, including the UK, until 0100 on Wednesday.

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1147 Chandan from Sheffield writes:

I had my flight on Friday. I went to LHR and came back to Sheffield, as it was cancelled. Now it's Tuesday. No signs of LHR opening. I want to travel to Bangalore, India. I am getting married this Sunday. At least I need to be in Bangalore by Saturday. Still, I don't have any options to go to India.

1142 Time to weigh anchor - HMS Albion has pulled up its gangplank, according to the BBC's Rob Walker in Santander.

1127 Not even Nato is immune to the ash, it seems. Its latest air training exercise, called Brilliant Ardent 2010 and hosted in Germany, has had to curtail activities because of the restrictions on airspace.

1114 Even volcanic ash clouds can have silver linings for some - the National Trust is to give free entry to its properties to any foreign travellers stranded in the UK.

Travellers must arrive at a National Trust property with a flight ticket from the affected period together with their passport.

Paul Henley

1106 The BBC's Paul Henley in Santander says:

The situation is quite chaotic because people are hearing rumours, and chasing rumours around the continent.

1100 The first flight for four days between Northern Ireland and Scotland has landed. The Flybe Edinburgh-Belfast flight arrived at 1047.

1045 There are 500 British troops - on their way home from Afghanistan - waiting to leave northern Spain on Royal Navy warship HMS Albion. And 300 British tourists are also due to return on the vessel, which has docked in Santander.

1035 BAA Scotland spokesman Donald Morrison is at Glasgow airport. He said his organisation was "deeply frustrated" at having to close again at 1300. Although a number of flights had already taken off and landed, he said the "short window of opportunity" means airlines do not want to risk having crew and planes out of position.

1029 It was only a friendly match, but still worth mentioning - Celtic have postponed their game at Parkhead against Dutch side AZ Alkmaar on Wednesday night. There is still plenty of football on television, at least.

1022 The first flights out of George Best Belfast City Airport have now departed. The 1015 flight to Glasgow has taken off on time and the 1045 flight to Aberdeen has also gone... early.

1019 British Airways has been able to operate its first flight since Saturday, with a Boeing 777 taking off from Beijing.

BA said it hoped the plane could land at Heathrow if flight restrictions for southern England were lifted later. If not, the aircraft will land in Scotland or at another European destination.

1011 Brian Flynn of Eurocontrol, which regulates Europe's airspace, offers crumbs of comfort among all the doom and gloom. He says 75% of the land mass of Europe is open, which will allows about 50-60% of the flights to operate.

He adds: "The outlook is optimistic that bit by bit, hopefully in a few days' time, the situation will be restored to normal movement of air passengers in Europe."

0959 A BBC correspondent at Frankfurt airport says that of the 100 flights scheduled to take off from there in the next few hours, all but five have now been cancelled.

0954 A BBC reporter confirms that the first flight landed at Newcastle Airport from Aberdeen at 0939.

0944 The EU Commissioner for Transport, Siim Kallas, has denied that European transport ministers took too long to respond to the ash crisis.

Mr Kallas was responding to criticism that ministers took five days to hold a video conference to decide on action to handle the situation.

Speaking before MEPs at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Mr Kallas said: "Safety is and remains our fundamental concern."

0938 Prime Minister Gordon Brown says "it's important that everybody knows that if they can get to a Channel port we can get them across from Europe to the United Kingdom".

0928 More bad news, unfortunately - Northern Ireland airspace is to be closed from 1300 to 1900, and the airspace around Glasgow Airport will close from 1300 "until further notice" following more advice from Nats.

0917 Just as you are digesting that latest Nats bulletin, bear in mind that it also adds the caveat of how the situation is "likely to change during the course of the day". Its next statement will be due at about 1500.

Meanwhile, the global effects of the volcano's continued rumblings goes on - Nissan will suspend some production of vehicles in Japan because it is unable to import air pressure sensors from Ireland, due to the lack of air travel in Europe, according to a spokesman.

0909 A Nats statement says the situation will "continue to be variable". Part of Scottish airspace including Aberdeen, Inverness and Edinburgh airports will continue to be available from 1300 to 1900, and also south to Newcastle Airport. Restrictions will remain in place over the rest of UK airspace below 20,000ft.

It also says that aircraft will be able to pass above 20,000ft in UK airspace from 1300 to 1900.

0859 Another day is under way and thousands of people are still trying to make their way home without flying through the cloud of volcanic ash. The latest news is that some flights are taking off in Scotland where airports have reopened. However, there are fears of a new volcanic ash cloud spreading to the UK, which could cause yet more problems. Nats is due to make another statement at about 0900, so we'll have their latest advice shortly.

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