Accessibility links

Volcanic Ash Could Threaten Europe's Peak Tourist Season

Scientists in Iceland say the volcano that has been spewing out massive plumes of ash over much of Europe appears to be calming down. Last month, the volcanic ash cloud forced the closure of much of Europe's air space and the cancellation of thousands of flights, affecting at least 10 million passengers.

Dream vacations may become a reality once again for European travelers. Scientists in Iceland report the volcanic eruptions that have disrupted air travel across Europe for more than a month appear to be calming down and the ash cloud that has threatened the continent's airspace is dissipating.

The announcement is welcome news for would-be travelers and the airline industry, which lost an estimated $1.6 billion in last month's six-day shutdown of air space.

But scientists say the volcano is still rumbling deep within the earth and could erupt again. Plus, scientists warn of a larger neighboring volcano that could also erupt at any time.

Missing out on tourists during peak travel season is just what Frances Tuke, spokeswoman for the Association of British Travel Agents, would like to avoid.

"We cannot control the eruptions of a volcano, but what we can do is change and adapt our reaction to it, which is what the U.K. travel industry is endeavoring to do in order to make sure that flying is safe, but that there is minimum disruption," she said.

At the height of the volcanic eruptions last month, airlines grounded their planes for fear the ash could interfere with jet engines and make flying unsafe.

Tuke says research since the initial flight ban is helping experts to minimize no-fly zones by identifying which air space is dangerous for travel, and which may be safely used. She says even renewed volcanic eruptions should affect far fewer travelers.

The disruptions of April have cost the travel industry dearly, says economist Linda Yueh. She says fear could further slow Europe's already sluggish economic recovery.

"Especially with a busy summer and autumn, having this kind of uncertainty is likely to shave off a few-billion dollars or euros from the European economies at a time when really these countries could certainly use that additional revenue," she said.

Though some may still be wary about booking flights, the potential of new eruptions is not enough to keep Annette Mansford out of the skies. She and her family are jetting off for a long-awaited island getaway. Mansford's advice for other travelers?

"Just go! Make the most of it," she said. "Make sure you have got travel insurance, though!"

For travelers to and from Britain, there is an additional factor to worry about - British Airways cabin crews have begun a five-day strike, resulting in hundreds of canceled flights at London Heathrow, Europe's busiest airport.