Ash cloud delays U students’ travel

The eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano created problems for European airports.

Danielle Nordine

University of Minnesota junior Ryan Eddy didnâÄôt plan to spend the entire night of April 20 keeping an eye on his bags in RomeâÄôs Roma Termini central train station or the next morning in a crowded airport with worried passengers. But the ash cloud drifting from IcelandâÄôs Eyjafjallajökull volcano, which began erupting April 14, caused many European airports to shut down for days. By now, most of those airports have reopened and resumed flights, but because of the cancellations many airlines are facing a backlog of passengers, which has delayed the return of some University students studying abroad in Europe. âÄúThe atmosphere at the airport was definitely stressful,âÄù Eddy said. âÄúThere were huge lines, people were freaking out and tons of people were trying to get on any flights they could,âÄù he said. Martha Johnson, director of the UniversityâÄôs Learning Abroad Center, said the flight cancellations and airport closures werenâÄôt much of a problem for most University programs, because most are only now ending. Some outside programs, including some through the Carlson School of Management, ended earlier. The first Learning Abroad Center-sponsored program was the London program, which finished April 24, Johnson said. Eddy, a former Minnesota Daily employee who was studying in Italy through a Carlson program, was planning to travel through London and arrive home April 19. While Eddy was only delayed a few days, he said some of the other students in his program are still stuck in Italy. Trains to cities with airports were full and sometimes double-booked, and many people were concerned about the uncertainty of when the ash would clear, he said. âÄúItâÄôs all theyâÄôre talking about over there,âÄù Eddy said. âÄúItâÄôs the only thing in the news.âÄù Eddy said his unplanned train ticket, food and other expenses because of the delay cost him at least 200 euro, or roughly $267. The cost would have been much higher, but Eddy said he was able to stay with a friend who was also studying in Italy on his way to the Rome airport, saving him the expense of a hotel room. The Learning Abroad Center had started organizing a plan should the ash continue to be a problem, Johnson said. The center had arranged for students to stay longer in their housing in London if necessary, but currently that doesnâÄôt appear needed, she said. âÄúHousing is really the biggest issue in a situation like this, because you donâÄôt want students to be stranded somewhere,âÄù she said. âÄúThat can also incur extra costs for them,âÄù she said. Despite the chaos, Eddy said the airlines were more accommodating than he expected in helping him find a different flight home with the least cost possible. Eddy said he was still relieved when he got back to the United States. âÄúI had the biggest smile when I got to Chicago and didnâÄôt have to order my food in Italian,âÄù Eddy said. âÄúEven getting on a plane was much more organized than in Italy,âÄù There are more than 10 Learning Abroad Center programs in Europe this semester and at least 50 affiliated programs with University students, according to the centerâÄôs website. âÄúWe feel pretty fortunate that the timing [of the eruption] was when it was,âÄù Johnson said. âÄúIf it had happened in May, it would have been a much bigger problem for us.âÄù