Brits marooned at JFK as Iceland volcano causes airport closures

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Hundreds of travelers were stranded at John F. Kennedy International Airport this week after a massive plume of ash and smoke discharged by a volcanic eruption Wednesday in Iceland caused the closure of major European airports in the United Kingdom and Northern Europe.

The eruption of southern Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull glacier sent ash south and east across Britain, Ireland, Scandinavia and the heart of Europe, and the reverberations from the airport closures were felt around the world. At JFK, the delays packed Queens hotels Thursday night while land-bound passengers awaited word on when flights would resume.

The British Airways terminal at JFK was mostly calm Friday afternoon, despite a long queue of people waiting to find out if they would be chosen for a flight to scheduled to leave that evening for Glasgow, Scotland, one of a couple of U.K. airports less affected by the ash that were still accepting transatlantic flights on Friday.

Many of those gathered there, with the luggage, red eyes and tousled hair characteristic of the unfortunate men and women caught in such dramatic air delays, said they could not get angry about safety precautions resulting from an unexpected natural disaster.

Sarah Longfield of Manchester, England, came to New York for the first time Saturday and planned to fly to London Friday evening. She said she had such a great time exploring the Big Apple that she did not find out about the volcano and resulting delays until she arrived at the terminal Friday afternoon.

Longfield stood at the end of a long line at JFK’s British Airways terminal with her luggage Friday afternoon, hoping for a spot on the flight to Scotland, which would leave her hundreds of miles from home but at least get her on the right continent.

“I’m here all alone, so I’m kind of worried, though I am a little worried about the ash going into the engine, too. I don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said. “Hopefully there will be a little corner on the plane for me.”

All London airports, including the massive London Heathrow Airport, were to remain closed until at least 1:00 p.m. Saturday as of Friday afternoon, according to Heathrow’s Web site, and other airports saw closures in France and across Northern Europe.

EUROCONTROL, Europe’s air safety organization, told Bloomberg News Friday that about 14,000 to 16,000 of 28,000 scheduled European flights would be cancelled that day.

The closings were necessary because the dense material being spewed from the volcano can cause jet engines to stop in mid-flight.

Adam and Alison Rumble, two blonde London schoolteachers, said they had tickets to fly back home Thursday evening after four nights in New York City. Their 2-year-old daughter and a return to work awaited them at home, so the couple was waiting on the slow-moving line to determine who would be flying to Glasgow that evening.

“Initially they told us our flight was one of two flights that was still going. We came in around 3 o’clock yesterday, checked our bags, got a cup of coffee, kept our fingers crossed, and by the time we had a sip they announced our flight was cancelled,” Adam Rumble said. “We want to get back to our little girl, she’s with Nan and Granddad back home. This was a little longer stint than they expected.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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