Thursday, May 06, 2010

Volcanic Ash Cloud Grounds Aircraft!

You've got to be kidding me. I totally thought it was a joke. I had had a uneventful layover in Manchester, UK and I woke up that morning and was getting ready to leave when I noticed a plain white sheet of paper had been placed underneath my hotel room door. It said that "Due to a Volcanic Ash Cloud, my flight to Philadelphia had been cancelled until further notice." I thought my other crew members where trying to play a trick on me. What a great April Fool's joke that would have been!! Only it was true! I turned on the TV and there on BBC and CNN were the news anchors showing all the airports in the UK, closed!

That first day, I stayed glued to the TV, hearing all the reports about the volcanic eruption in Iceland and the dangers of flying thru an ash cloud.

The BBC played a documentary about the British Airways flight in 1982 that encountered an ash cloud over the Pacific and lost all four engines!

I had known about the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland. It had first erupted in March and while flying back and forth across the Atlantic we had hoped that we would be able to see the glow of the eruption. (our flight path to Europe from Philadelphia often takes us across Iceland)

Each day we would watch the local news in England, hoping that the travel ban would be lifted. The weather played a key role. As long as the winds were blowing the ash plume over Europe, we would be grounded. We had no idea how long this could last and were just waiting day by day to see what would happen next.

At home things were going along as normal with only the International Flights to Europe being disrupted. But here in the UK, the whole country was stranded. England is an island and the only contact with the rest of the world was now thru ferries to mainland Europe and the Eurostar train thru the Chunnel (Channel Tunnel) linking the United Kingdom with France.

We were "humanity adrift on the sea of life" like this statue, Adrift, by John Cassidy in front of the Library in Manchester.

The weather in Manchester was gorgeous. I believe only one day out of the nine days I was stranded was even overcast. Every morning the sun rose bright and shiny in clear skies! We did not see any evidence of ash, although there were reports that in areas of Scotland and northern England a dusting of ash could be seen.

After several days of waiting and watching, I finally decided to get out of Manchester and see more of the countryside. I took a train to the town of Chester.

Chester was a Roman Fort in the year 79! and a medieval walled city. Roman remains can still be found in the basements of some buildings and in the lower parts of some of the cities walls. There is also a Roman amphitheater just outside the walls. Many of the black and white buildings in the center of the city are actually Victorian reproductions. The walls of the city can be walked and it is a 2 mile circuit. The location on the River Dee made it a key port during the industrial revolution. Chester was a transportation hub for the railway and for a canal system. It is really a super cute little city with wonderful history, shopping and restaurants.

On another day, one of the other flight attendants and I decided to tour the BBC studios in Manchester.

The studios are very close to our layover hotel and we made arrangements to take a tour. It was much like the tours I have taken of NBC studios in New York City and the Warners Brothers and Universal movie studios in California.

Finally after nine days in Manchester, the travel ban was lifted and the Manchester airport was opened. The flight from Philadelphia was on it's way and we would be working the flight back to the United States the next day! It was great to be back in the air again!


Liz Henderson (Hendel D'bu) said...

Wish I could have been stranded in Manchester...I have friends there! :-)

Thanks for the tour - good stuff! You looked great as an anchor, too!

Anonymous said...

At the risk of sounding picky I want to point that great Britain is an island, well quite a few really, and England is part of the largest one.

It sounds like you made the most of your enforced long stay here, did you plant any more letterboxes?

Dilton Martian

Amanda from Seattle said...

And all the airports on the islands that make up the UK were closed at one point or another for those 9 days! Scotland and Ireland were closed for quite some time and recently closed again. Scotland and Wales are part of the island where I was stranded. The town of Chester was right at the border with Wales