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Ash flights frustration continues

Stuart and Tina Gunn should be with their daughter by now. She is in New Zealand, due to give birth to her first child.

Instead, the British couple remained stuck at a Sydney hotel for a second day, waiting for ash spewing from a Chilean volcano to clear, and waiting to hear from Australian airline Qantas, which was supposed to take them on the last leg of their journey.

The Gunns are among tens of thousands of passengers grounded in Australia who have become increasingly frustrated at Qantas and other airlines. Many cannot understand why some carriers are cancelling flights, while others are not.

The ash, which can damage jet engines, has moved across the Pacific from Chile, where a volcano has been erupting since June 4. More than 70,000 passengers in Australia and New Zealand have been at least temporarily stranded since the weekend.

In South America, the main international airports in Argentina and Uruguay were closed. That forced Peruvian president-elect Ollanta Humala to take a boat across the Rio de la Plata from Uruguay to Buenos Aires, where he met Argentine President Cristina Fernandez on Tuesday.

Football officials, meanwhile, were worried that the ash could delay the July 1 start of the Copa America, South America's championship. "We hope that within five or six days the problems with the ash will not exist," Argentine Football Association president Julio Grondona told Argentine broadcaster Radio 10.

In Sydney, the Gunns have booked tickets on another airline and will use them if Qantas does not fly them out on Thursday. They said they have spent four hours on hold on the telephone trying to speak with Qantas, but have yet to get through.

"You listen to that message until you lose the will to live," said Mrs Gunn. She said her daughter, Jacqueline Burt, is due to give birth on Friday but has already been feeling pains and is getting "very stressed".

Virgin Australia and Air New Zealand have avoided cancelling many flights by changing flight paths, a step Qantas and some other airlines have been unwilling to take. Qantas spokesman Tom Woodward said he could not comment on other airlines' safety procedures, but that when it came to thick ash clouds, Qantas would not fly through them, under them or around them.

He said Qantas was doing everything possible by providing hotel rooms for stranded passengers and allowing them to rebook or collect refunds for their tickets. Qantas was also trying to reach out to passengers with text messages and by posting regular updates on its website, he said.

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