My recent post on Lockdown London reminded me of another unique situation 10 years ago. The Icelandic volcano of Eyjafjallajökull had been active since the end of 2009, but on 14th April 2010 the activity went into a new and more violent second phase when it began began to erupt beneath a glacier. The massive eruption sent an estimated total of 250 million cubic metres of ash as high as 9 kilometres into the atmosphere. It had a huge effect on air travel, and on 15 April British controlled airspace was shut down.
At the time, my wife was in Milan at the Salone furniture fair, the biggest of its type in the world. When initial reports said that the affect on air travel would be limited, I looked at the met maps and formed a different opinion. (I used to be a commercial hot air balloon pilot and have a good knowledge of meteorology). I suggested that my wife, who had return air tickets for a couple of days later, get home as quickly as possible. Flights were all full, and people were fighting over train tickets to leave Milan. She was lucky enough to get the last few tickets on a sleeper train to Lille, for herself and her staff. Thousands of other people weren’t so lucky and were stranded in Milan for many days when airspace closed. Some paid thousands of pounds to get taxi’s from Milan to the UK.
Unfortunately she couldn’t get Eurostar tickets home from Lille, so I took the car through the tunnel and picked them up, to great relief. I made a brief detour to my favourite Belgian beer shop, Nöel Cuvellier at Poperinge, to stock up, so the journey was beneficial in other ways!
Enjoying the absence of aeroplanes from the skies, I realised that it would be a unique opportunity to visit a deserted Stansted Airport, the nearest airport to us. So I rode my 1973 Alex Singer Paris-Brest-Paris model there and enjoyed the pleasure of viewing Norman Foster’s architecture with hardly a soul in sight.
British airspace was closed for over 6 days and caused travel chaos across Europe, The Ukraine and Turkey. For me, nature had provided some welcome respite from the crowded and noisy skies over London, which are otherwise always adulterated by numerous aircraft vapour trails.