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When will Europe start flying again?

By Robert Niles
Published: April 17, 2010 at 3:09 PM
Updates below as we try to find help for European visitors stranded in Orlando.

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.

Update 3: Disney's now offering free tickets and the Orlando Convention & Visitors Bureau has compiled a list of relief offers.

Readers' Opinions

From M. Ryan Traylor on April 17, 2010 at 3:28 PM
That makes me wish I was stranded in FL with an international flight.
From Gareth H on April 17, 2010 at 3:59 PM
Yes, but the fun has turned to panic now as funds are being depleated on hotel rooms, transportation and essential food items.

Families with children are unaware of when they can return as flights are still suspended. Even when they do return to service, planes will not be in the correct locations, there will be a large backlog of vistors all trying to get the first flights out.

As fun as it sounds, people really need assistance now.

Any local restaurants that can offer assistance with food would be apprechiated, cough, Golden Corral, Perkins, Ponderosa, Ihop, etc etc. They are welcome to contact me via the contact button.

For any Brits stranded here, 2 British bars are offering assistance and a gathering place. Murphy's Arms Pub, and the Lucky Leprechaun Irish Pub, both located by Midway Mania on International Drive, offer child friendly locations and will assist with updates advice and will be happy to answer any questions you have.

From 72.151.133.90 on April 17, 2010 at 9:02 PM
Please folks if you can give us any information, so that we can pass it on to these families that would be wonderful. We need to find out if any of the big corporations can help us with food etc. and the basics to get these people though until the airlines can get them back home. As Gareth said The Lucky Leprechaun and Murphys Arms on International Drive will keep them updated and pass on any help and advice to the stranded families.
From 132.25.0.207 on April 18, 2010 at 5:25 AM
I think its terrible. I am an American stranded in Europe. My funds are extremely depleted. Not to mention my rental car was broken into forcing me to pay a 300 euro deductible for window replacment. No suspects were caught. I am eating frozen burritos and I have enough money to survive till the 22nd with no freinds or family to stay with. I know how they feel. I am going to pack up what I have and start backpacking. There is a military base near by so I am going to call over there and see what can be done. Hotels are booked, although I was able to extend my stay. I have to pay cash since my credit card funds are depleted. This sucks.
From 208.85.13.249 on April 18, 2010 at 8:00 AM
We are a family with 2 children and should have returned to UK on Thursday. We have had 2 wks at an RV park in Sarasota and have now re-booked until Tuesday (If that flight happens!) We returned our hire car to save money and re-booked our RV. We are concerned about cost should this continue. We can afford it now but what happens long term??? Our insurance company will not cover any expenses. The offer for a free park day is a silver lining in our cloud...I just hope the weather improves!!!!
We are both working parents and the children are due back in school tomorrow. The cost of this to business around the world is unimaginable, let alone the airlines need this like a hole in the head!
From Alex Gamso on April 18, 2010 at 8:15 AM
Currently my dad is stranded in Germany. He has a flight scheduled for Monday. This will most defiantly slow the business at the parks. Although, Sea World and Busch Gardens do have a good plan on in park spending.
From Anthony Murphy on April 18, 2010 at 12:07 PM
I am not sure if it has anything to do with anything, but I heard that the Magic Kingdom was offering 20% at their counter service places such as Columbia Harbour House, Pecos Bill, and Starlight Ray's. It was only good for an early or late lunch at the park.
From 72.40.56.24 on April 18, 2010 at 2:30 PM
We are stranded in Florida, luckily our villa owner has been lovely and let us extend our stay but we can't get a flight home til Tues 27th, our funds are very quickly depleting so any freebies on offer would be a great help, we have 2 kids who need feeding and entertaining!!!
From Joshua Counsil on April 19, 2010 at 9:55 AM
What a terrible situation, but Busch and SeaWorld seem to be on the right track. Disney and Universal have a surplus of resorts, and so much of their income is from European travellers. They really should fork out some free or heavily discounted resort rooms with proof of plane ticket.

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