By CHRIS GRAEME [email protected]
Up and until Wednesday this week, normally busy British Airways check-in desks at Lisbon’s Portela Airport looked more like a scene from the Marie Celeste than the World’s Favourite Airline.
At the BA ticket desk, exhausted passengers stood patiently in line for up to 30 minutes at a time waiting to get information about their next possible available flights.
BA Customer Service Operator, Ana Figeiredo, told the Algarve Resident: “It’s been remarkably calm here at the airport,” adding that people had been very understanding and patient.
British Airways initially said they would not be covering the costs to put up stranded passengers without full insurance even though easyJet was offering food and hotel expenses
However, the company changed its mind on Tuesday.
British Airways normally operates daily flights to Porto, Lisbon and Faro and has lost an estimated 15-20 million pounds a day overall from cancelled flights.
easyJet said it had cancelled 4,500 flights (85 per cent), lost 5.7 million pounds a day and had accumulated total losses of 48 million pounds during the six-day fly ban, leaving 200,000 of its passengers high and dry.
The Spanish government said its airports, which are open, would be used to get up to 70,000 stranded Britons home as soon as British airspace was opened.
British Airways started operating flights from 7pm on Tuesday while Aer Lingus confirmed that all flights from Ireland to Portugal would begin operating as scheduled on Wednesday. Ryanair also cancelled all flights until Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the British Government held three Cobra, Emergency Response Committee, meetings early this week which were followed by an announcement from Gordon Brown that the Royal Navy would help repatriate stranded British nationals using the Ark Royal and Albion.
Tour operator Thomson said on Monday that its cruise ship Island Escape, currently moored in the Bay of Funchal, would bring all UK holiday makers stranded on Madeira, including 300 non-Thomson tourists, back to the UK.
British nationals still stranded in Portugal, Madeira or the Azores should stay in contact with their airlines and regularly check for updates on their airline webpage and consult the British Embassy Portugal webpage http://ukinportugal.fco.gov.uk and click on: ‘Advice for British Nationals stranded overseas due to volcanic ash.’
Manuela Castro Ferro, a British Embassy spokesperson at the British Embassy in Lisbon told the Algarve Resident: “We sent consular colleagues to Lisbon and Faro airports on Monday to see if any UK residents needed assistance but it was very calm and our direct services weren’t needed.
“However we have received many phone calls from worried passengers and residents and we have been able to assist them with general advice such as offering lists of doctors, suggesting they get in contact with relatives and how to transfer money via Western Union but we cannot offer any financial assistance.”
The spokeswoman said that a significant number of UK citizens may have opted to get home under their own steam via coach, train or even taxi in some cases.
The Iceland volcano also disrupted the schedules of high-ranking politicians such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel who was forced to make a stopover in Lisbon on her return from the United States. Merkel was met at the airport by Prime Minister, José Sócrates and spent the night at the German Embassy in Lisbon.