Saturday, April 17, 2010

Stories from the apocalypse

If you rely on the UK media for your news you may be under the impression that the current volcanic dust problems are affecting (a) holidaymakers who can't go on their trip; and (b) the arrival of exotic fruits and the subsequent trauma of the English middle classes. (Honestly I'm not making that up).

However, as I have spent some time over the last few days in the company of people who have been genuinely affected by the wrath of Eyjafjallajoekull (when my 4 year old daughter writes to me on messenger I'm sure that's the word she usually types, which means she's been warning me of this event for some time, which is a bit freakish), I do know that there are some actual stories of hardships beyond the awfulness of not being able to buy pineapple at Waitrose. These are all people I've met in the last couple of days (mostly on my non-flight on Thursday), or who I know or am connected to in some way.

1. The British man and Romanian woman who were flying out to their own wedding in Bucharest (should have been today - Saturday) along with assorted relatives. I have this image of a church full of people in Bucharest standing around even now looking at their watches and muttering "I knew it wouldn't last" to their neighbours.

2. The Egyptian guy who was flying home to Cairo via Bucharest. He is now stuck in the UK with a soon to expire visa and no money whatsoever. With this promising to go on for some time there are increasing number of people in a similar situation. If you've nowhere to stay, no money, no way of getting home aside from by plane...what do you do?

3. The Cypriot businessman who lives in London and who has a factory in Romania. he was flying over to sign all the cheques to pay his workers. He needs to be there to do that, and no-one else can do it. So a large number of people who were not even flying anywhere have a massive problem.

4. Someone I met in Moscow a couple of weeks ago whose visa expires today, and who was due to fly home yesterday. I suspect Russian visa officials will not be terribly sympathetic.

5. Daughter of a friend who is stuck in Bangkok with no money, dodging riots on the streets.

So, what all these things remind me is that (a) my situation is not terrible in the grand scheme of things. I miss my family (and I'd like to think they miss me), and really really want to be home. But I have somewhere to stay, access to some money, and time to work out other options; and (b) anyone complaining they can't buy a fig wants shooting.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Ash Thursday

So, today I have managed to check off the "get delayed by volcanic ash" item from the "Things I must do before I snuff it" list. It hadn't been very high up that list to be fair, but I thought today was an opportunity too good to miss. Only comes around every 200 years apparently. Bastard has to be today.

However, I feel I have to use an opportunity here to praise Tarom and their rep at Heathrow Catalin Zlota. Now as we all know airlines don't actually have any obligation to help passengers in a situation not of their making, such as weather, and less commonly vast clouds of volcanic ash floating over from Iceland. And in fact nearly all the airlines around basically told everyone to go home and come back tomorrow, whereas Tarom gave us food tokens and actually put us all in a hotel (from where I write this), with dinner and breakfast. I was chatting to a couple of Alitalia staff (it was a long day) and they said that as far as they could tell not only were we the only passengers to get this treatment, but Domnul Zlota was the only airline rep who was out working with his passengers.

I get the impression that Tarom doesn't get much respect in Romania, but it should. I have always found it a reasonable airline (in European airline terms), and the staff are always friendly and helpful, and today's events have reinforced and extended that feeling. No idea whether I'll feel this way tomorrow after the ash has delayed us for another day, but so far, they and specifically Zlota are doing a great job.

Unexpectedly positive post perhaps. Especially in the circumstances where I really really REALLY want to go home.