In Belgium, the airspace was closed as of 16:30 CET yesterday and will remain closed until further notice, until noon at least, maybe even until 18:00 PM this evening, according to the transport ministry.
Eurocontrol, the European air safety organisation, said yesterday that the airspace in Northern Europe could remain closed for up to two days depending on how fast it takes for the volcanic ash cloud to fly over the continent.
5,000 to 6,000 of the 28,000 daily flights across Europe were cancelled on Thursday as a result of the ash plume, said Lucia Pasquini, a Eurocontrol spokeswoman.
The ash cloud, though largely invisible to the naked eye, consists of extremely fine rock particles, which are highly dangerous when drawn into aircraft engines, forcing aviation authorities to act swiftly and decisively.
The main mass of the cloud has drifted over Scandinavia, while a number of other northern countries, including Belgium and the UK, have closed down their national airspace completely until further notice.
One BBC tweet, punning on the Icelandic banking crisis in which UK investors expected to be reimbursed for lost savings (EurActiv 01/03/10), noted: "Iceland: we said send cash, not ash".
The Belgian airspace closure was a cause of mass frustration in the EU quarter as Thursday and Friday flights are traditionally choc-a-bloc with commuters – officials, journalists and private sector workers – returning to their home countries for the weekend.
The most high-profile cancellation was the planned visit by European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek to the Vatican.
In Brussels, hundreds of passengers who were in transit had to spend the night at the airport. Rest zones were put in place, food and drinks were being distributed and a medical assistance team is also on location.
More than 400 flights were cancelled, potentially affecting more than 20,000 passengers who were due to travel via the Belgian capital today and yesterday, according to Brussels National airport.
The volcanic cloud was due to pass over Belgium overnight. According to Météo France, it reached the country at around 2:00 am this morning and was continuing its course eastwards.
Poles expect full turnout for Sunday funeral
Meanwhile, the state funeral for the 96 Polish officials who died in last Saturday's air disaster (EurActiv 10/04/10), scheduled to take place this Sunday, will not be changed, according to Polish diplomats contacted by EurActiv.
As things stand, Warsaw expects a full turnout of EU leaders and dignitaries, given that they have had time to plan ahead and consider the possibility of airspace remaining closed.
Commission reminds passengers of their rights
Speaking on 15 April, European Commission Vice President Siim Kallas, responsible for transport, said that even in exceptional circumstances EU passenger rights continue to apply and air travellers should speak up to claim their rights as follows:
- The right to receive information from airlines (e.g. on your rights, on the situation as it evolves, cancellations and length of delays);
- the right to care (refreshments, meals and accommodation as appropriate), and;
- the right to chose between reimbursement of fares or being re-routed to final destination.
In exceptional circumstances such as this, passengers are not, however, entitled to additional financial compensation that would be due where delays or cancellations are the fault of the airline, Kallas added.
For more information on your rights see:
The EU's Top 12 Recommendations for Passengers:
Passengers are advised to contact their airlines, and in case of problems, their national enforcement body (see list below)