Simon Calder: The domino effect from our transport hubs

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The Independent Online

What we wanted from Iceland was cash; what we got instead was ash – an April shower of volcanic fragments that has paralysed northern Europe. And, as with the banking collapse on that unstable isle, the eruption at Eyjafjallajoekull is set to cost the UK – and tens of thousands of individuals – plenty in terms of cash and stress.

The chief casualties are the long-suffering airlines and their even-longer-suffering passengers. A volcanic cloud has succeeded in doing what terrorists, snow and strikers failed to achieve: close the skies over Britain. Even when the air is declared safe, planes, pilots and passengers will be all over the place.

Wherever you are heading on the planet, Britain is usually the best place to start. But the corollary is a domino effect that requires only a modest wobble to trigger large amounts of disruption. That is why relatively small groups of workers, from baggage handlers to pilots, can affect a vast number of travellers. But BA's cabin-crew reps, currently planning the next move in their dispute with management, will be as awed as everyone else at the havoc that Mother Earth can wreak on those with the temerity to plan an April break.

The scenes around the ski lifts at the Norwegian resort of Trysil, which I witnessed yesterday afternoon, can be magnified by a factor of perhaps 100,000: British holidaymakers were displaying a spectrum of anxiety.

Those who were booked on package holidays, with no pressing commitments, looked remarkably relaxed: their tour operators were responsible for sorting everything out and, if necessary, extending the holiday at no extra charge. People who had booked their trips individually were fretting, because those whose flights were cancelled get pushed to the end of the queue when flights start again, and in the meantime they had to fend for themselves.

Those with pressing commitments were checking other options: a 9am departure from Oslo on Saturday could get the hardy traveller prepared to change at Gothenburg, Copenhagen and Cologne as far as Brussels 24 hours later, but Eurostar was full.

And I was lucky enough to find a berth on a cargo ship sailing from Gothenburg to Immingham, where I hope to arrive at 4am on Saturday. Now that's a sentence I never thought I would write.

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