Bangkok: Frustrated European travellers stranded overseas struggled to find alternative routes home Sunday, desperate for information on flights into the continent's few airports not closed by a dangerous cloud of ash from an Icelandic volcano.
Flights into Rome, Athens and Madrid became the new hot ticket at many international airports — but after three days of travel disruptions, the backlog of passengers meant many faced waiting lists of days, even weeks.
"We'll take any flight to Europe," said Dirk Maertens, 52, slumped against a railing at Bangkok's international airport alongside his wife and 16-year-old son.
The Maertens slept on plastic seats at the airport on Saturday night after their flight home to Belgium was cancelled. They planned to camp out again yesterday on the off chance that seats on the already-overbooked Thai Airways flight into Rome might open up.
"When there is a flight, you have to be quick — you have to get on it, you can't be too far away," said Claire Maertens, 49, explaining why the family won't leave the airport.
"It's so strange," she said. "One volcano, and the whole of Europe is down."
Modern Europe has never seen such a travel disruption. Millions of passengers have had plans foiled or delayed. Around the world, anxious passengers have told stories of missed weddings, business deals and holidays because of the ominous plume, which could damage airplane engines.
Some carriers, like Australia's Qantas, put passengers up in hotels, but many did not, offering instead only to refund tickets or exchange them for later flights.
Russia's Foreign Ministry was organising round-the-clock consular services to arrange 72-hour visas for foreign passengers stuck at Moscow's three airports, Transportation Minister Igor Levitin said in a televised meeting.
Many travellers said the most frustrating part was the lack of information.
In Bangkok, British business manager Chris Coomber stood in a long line at an airline counter. He and his wife have been stranded in Thailand since Friday, and they've been told the first flight available isn't until April 29.
"It hasn't been handled well by the airlines," said Coomber, 53, a business development manager from Bournemouth, England. He complained the airline had only one computer and staff member at its information counter, while empty check-in stations were still staffed.
"It's a natural phenomenon. There's not much you can do about it," he said of the volcano. "But I feel badly about how it's been organised, the lack of information and the way the airlines have treated the people who can't get back home."
His schoolteacher wife, Barbara, was eager to get back to her class — a substitute will cost her school £250 (Dh1,409) a day, she fretted.