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Grounded! European flight cancellations due to volcanic ash could hurt tourism considerably

Published:Sunday | April 18, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Janet Silvera, Senior Gleaner Writer

WESTERN BUREAU:

FLIGHTS FROM Europe into Jamaica were cancelled for the third consecutive day yesterday as Icelandic volcanic ash continued to spew havoc on the travel and tourism industry.

British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Air Berlin and Jet Air passengers remained stuck in the island's resorts and at airports across Europe yesterday. Many of them, scheduled to depart Jamaica, are out of pocket and unprepared after their vacations here.

"We pretty much have no money left and our credit cards are in Europe," Denitsa Asenova, a guest of RIU Montego Bay said. Asenova was scheduled to depart on Air Berlin to Dusseldorf, Germany, then drive home to Holland last Friday. "Air Berlin protected us on the first night, but we are now expected to find our way."

Help from friends

She said she is getting help from her friends in the United States who are paying for the extra nights, but because of the uncertainty of when they will fly, doesn't know how soon that help will run out.

Like Asenova, who has found herself in a predicament, the airlines are also reporting massive losses in revenue. A BBC report stated that their loss was approximately €13 million per day.

"For the last three days, we have been expecting a charter flight with some 300 passengers from Germany, but we don't know what will eventually happen," Air Berlin's station manager, Paula Townsend, told The Sunday Gleaner. Townsend's flight is a feeder from Berlin, Hamburg, Stuttgart, Munich and Vienna.

She said the airline protected its passengers on the first day they were delayed, but couldn't extend those services over the entire period that they may remained stranded on the island.

Protecting passengers is not the case with all carriers, and airlines such as British Airways and Virgin Atlantic argue that the volcanic eruption in Iceland is an 'act of God' and the airlines are not responsible during natural disasters.

Virgin holidays to foot cost

Checks with head of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA), Wayne Cummings, revealed that cancellations could have significant effects on the island's tourism sector. He confirmed that tour operator Virgin Holidays had been contacting the hotels and would take up the cost in relation to the extended stay, but that wasn't the case with Virgin Atlantic.

"Our company (Sandals Resorts International) has just started moving some of our European guests to other properties because we are now being oversold with the North American business that is coming in," he said.

And with no clear indication of when the situation will return to normal, the JHTA president said the challenge now is whether there will be enough aircraft to move the people fast enough when the time comes.

janet.silvera@gleanerjm.com