The big travel news from the past week continues to be the grounding of air traffic across Europe, the longest and largest disruption of air traffic in history.
The eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull (and we fought over how to pronounce "Caribbean") volcano in Iceland has blanketed much of Europe with high-altitude volcanic ash that can choke and disable jet engines. So airlines have cancelled tens of thousands of flights, from Thursday through today and into Monday.
British glaciologist Dr. Matthew Roberts explained to the BBC what's made this eruption (which is happening underneath a glacier) so unusual:
"It's the interaction of the molten rock, the magma, and the glacial ice which is causing the magma to cool very quickly and to be pulverised into tiny fragments of rock. And these updrafts of fine volcanic ash are being lifted into the sky by the enormous steam plumes that have been created by the vast quantities of ice that's been melted."
No air travel means no European tourists coming to the Orlando theme parks, or people from around the world visiting Europe. (And with Europeans who would have been flying crowding trains and highways instead, the tougher it's become for anyone who is on the continent to get around it.) The longer flights remain grounded, the longer it will take for airlines to sort out the resulting logistical mess, as some people wait for flights back home and others reconsider or reschedule spring and summer travel plans.
It's too early to tell how long the planes will remain grounded. But it's not too early to wonder if this disruption might be causing European theme park fans to rethink trips to America. (And folks around the world to reconsider visiting Europe.)
When 9/11 grounded flights in the United States, and made millions of Americans fearful of air travel, the theme parks in Southern California actually did better, as millions of Southern Californians stayed close to home and took trips to Disneyland, rather than fly off to Hawaii, Mexico or elsewhere, offsetting the loss of tourists coming in from abroad. Could the same thing happen in Europe if this lasts much longer?
I'd like to ask our European readers how this eruption has affected your travel plans, or if you think that it might. And I'd like to ask any other Theme Park Insider readers to add their thoughts about how this might affect the industry.
Update: Here's one way the flight cancellations are affecting the theme park industry already: SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa are offering free one-day admission to any European visitors stranded in the U.S.
The offer is valid starting Saturday, April 17, 2010 at SeaWorld Orlando, Aquatica in Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay.
Stranded tourists must present to the parks' front gate Guest Services window a valid return airline ticket from Wednesday, April 14, 2010 through Wednesday, April 21, 2010 or until normal flight schedules resume.
One ticket will be offered at each park for each return flight ticket presented. Children under age 3 are free.
Further information is available by calling 1-888-800-5447.
Update 2: TPI reader calls with concerns that European friends visiting Orlando are now running short of funds, and looking for places to stay (and places to eat) while they await a way back home. The free day at SeaWorld is nice, but for people who came to the U.S. on a budget, and have now spent that, more immediate needs for food and shelter take precedence.
So I'm putting this out there: Does anyone in Central Florida know of any relief efforts for stranded Europeans? If so, please post to the comments. Thanks.Tweet
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