Volcano mayhem leaves travellers stuck across Asia

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The Independent Travel

From backpackers stuck in Sydney to students unable to leave Beijing, thousands of travellers anxiously awaited the chance to return to Europe Monday as the chaos caused by Iceland's volcano dragged on.

There were scenes of mayhem at airports across the Asia-Pacific region, with hostels in Australia saying many travellers were running low on cash after being forced to extend their stays due to cancelled flights.

English traveller Amy Briggs, 25, said the volcanic ash cloud had brought a chaotic end to her six-month holiday in Australia.

"I was supposed to leave tomorrow on British Airways, but they told me it's been cancelled. So I have to spend more money to sleep here, and it spoils the end of my trip as I spend hours calling the airline," she told AFP.

The chaos left crowds of anguished travellers waiting in Chinese airports, with many being told their return home might be delayed for weeks.

"We're being really badly informed and Air France is not looking after us at all," complained Barbara Devuyst, 23, a Belgian photography student stuck in Beijing airport.

"We're going to stay and sleep in the airport," said Devuyst, part of a group of students from a university in Brussels on a study trip to China.

The group was due to fly out on Air France on Monday but the flight was cancelled and they were told by the airline they might not be able to go home until May 6, leaving them waiting anxiously next to their pile of luggage.

Passengers have been stranded worldwide due to the cloud of glass, sand and rock spewing from Iceland's Eyjafjoell volcano.

European and international agencies have been in urgent talks to try to ease the chaos after around 30 countries closed or restricted their airspace due to passenger safety fears, catching 6.8 million passengers in a global backlog.

Airlines in China said Monday they did not know how long the disruptions would last.

"We have not yet received any information on whether the flights will resume again tomorrow," a hotline operator for China Eastern, the nation's third-largest carrier, told AFP.

In Bangladesh, garments for export have piled up at the country's main airport and exporters said they were concerned that buyers would reject the shipments.

In one positive development, Alitalia said it had resumed flights from Japan to Rome and Milan after securing clear southern routes into Italy.

"The flights will take about two hours longer than usual, but the company will manage it by carrying less cargo," said an Alitalia spokesman in Tokyo.

The Alitalia flights, which usually pass over Siberia, will instead take a southern route over Central Asia and Turkey to Italy to avoid the ash plume over much of Europe, a company statement said.

Australia's Qantas announced more flight cancellations and said losses from the European ash cloud were totalling about 1.5 million dollars (1.4 million US) a day.

A spokesman said two Wednesday flights from Bangkok and Hong Kong to London had been axed, and warned that Tuesday's schedule to and from Europe was also likely to be wiped out by the freak cloud of ash from a volcano in Iceland.

"We're doing our best not to create any expectations that this is going to improve as of tomorrow our time," the spokesman told AFP.

"The indications still are that the airspace closures are going to stay in place for a period still, which means that we will be forced to make further cancellations."

The airline also said financial losses from the shutdown, already in its fourth day, were beginning to bite.

Some backpackers, however, took the opportunity to enjoy extra time at the beach, taking advantage of a spell of warm autumn weather.

"There are worse places to be stranded than Sydney," said Peter Miller, owner of the Great Aussie backpackers hostel.

 

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