When the Music Stops: The Impact of the Volcanic Ash Cloud on Air Passengers

Guiver, Jo orcid iconORCID: 0000-0001-6126-3662 (2011) When the Music Stops: The Impact of the Volcanic Ash Cloud on Air Passengers. In: Nordic Geographers Meeting, 24th-27th May 2011, Roskilde, Denmark.

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In April 2010 European flights were grounded by the ash cloud from the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull. The ensuing ‘chaos’ was widely reported in the media along with heroic tales of people struggling to get home. The Institute of Transport and Tourism launched an on-line survey on the fifth day of the crisis, which attracted over 500 responses. It not only gives a picture of people’s priorities and the difficulty of dealing with uncertainties to make alternative travel, or non-travel, decisions, it provides a snapshot of the way aviation is sustaining international business, friendship and kinship networks.

The survey findings and particularly the comments provided by the respondents illustrate the ‘glocal’ nature of life for many professionals and other travellers, where global and local networks and roles become intertwined. The use of mobile technologies facilitated the involvement of home networks in providing advice, research and material support for stranded passengers as well having to fulfil their duties in their absence. Friends and family were the most willing to help stranded passengers and although airlines were eventually the most able to provide assistance, they were also the most difficult to contact.

The paper discusses the lessons that can be learnt from the experience by individuals, travel providers and governments. It explores whether such a brief suspension of flying can provide insights possible reactions to reduced availability of flying through increasing costs of fuel or legislation to cut climate change emissions. It concludes that humans are infinitely resourceful, but that the dispersed networks currently being established because flying is cheap and easy to access are creating resistance to any reduction in aviation.

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