Like five million other people, we have been stranded due to the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull. Our flight was due to leave Saturday morning, but the airports were in chaos and Belgian airspace closed down. We decided not to risk a repeat performance, so rather than rebook a flight we tried for the train station - more chaos and then some!
Despite record demand and a line taking up the entire hall, Train Italia didn't put on any extra staff, and of course they would not allow internet booking. Despite getting in line at opening, we waited three hours for the five staff members to slowly sell tickets to thousands of patient passengers. There was no sign at all that Train Italia considered the circumstances to be exceptional - they didn't even modify the line divider lay-out to allow an ordered line, having people sprawl out over the entire hall. After an hour of waiting they sent out someone to shout that there were no trains going north for two days. After another hour the same lady came out with a megaphone saying that Train Italia would put on an extra train to Milan, leaving in a few hours, no need to wait in line - just cram onto the train if you can and buy a ticket on the train. Idiots! I'm surprised there was not a riot on the platform and that no-one died after being pushed in front of a train. What made them decide to get rid of an orderly ticket system and start a free-for-all? We finally got to the front of the line and asked for the next tickets back to Belgium. The guy simply said "there are none". "Ever?" I replied skeptically. "Not today", he said with a shrug, "and not tomorrow". "Well how about the next day, or the day after that? We just want the next available tickets to Brussels". He finally started to click the screen half-heartedly for five minutes, then discussed his lunch choice with a coworker, before finally selling us overpriced train tickets for two days time to Milan, connecting the next day to Zurich and finally arriving just three days late in Brussels.
Obviously Eyjafjallajökull erupting can't be blamed on anyone. I'm glad the governments involved took proactive steps to shut down flights that could have been in danger, far better to have a central decision rather than let every airline decide for itself based on a profit calculation. But the disgrace has been the response of airports, airlines and governments to that decision. RyanAir would not let us rebook our flights online, since we had already checked in, and just sent a text message telling us to go to the airport to book. Rome Airport barely bothered to update its website, with the front page still praising the reductions in waiting times in 2009 and shopping specials. After a dozen clicks there was a message asking people not to come to the airport and a list of which flights were cancelled that didn't match the list produced by the airlines. We were lucky in being stranded in Rome, compared to 200 Bangladeshis who were stuck in Brussels airport as their plane was diverted and they didn't have a Belgian visa to leave the airport. Airlines, airports and governments could all have recognised that their actions would cause chaos and each could have stepped up with small measures that would have made things bearable, instead each acted as if it was business as normal.