Ryanair cancels most flights across Europe until Monday citing uncertain path of volcanic ash

By Shawn Pogatchnik, AP
Friday, April 16, 2010

Ash makes Ryanair cancel most flights until Monday

DUBLIN — Budget airline Ryanair announced it has canceled most of its flights through midday Monday because of the uncertain path of Iceland’s dangerous plumes of volcanic ash.

Friday’s cancelation announcement is the biggest yet by any airline since the mass grounding of flights began a day before, spreading from Britain through much of northern Europe.

Chief executive Michael O’Leary said Ryanair was canceling all of its flights to and from Britain, Ireland, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, northern France, northern Germany, Poland and the Baltic states until 1200GMT Monday.

“Sometimes God, I’m afraid, is to blame,” O’Leary said in a telephone interview.

He noted that normally the Gulf Stream and prevailing Atlantic winds from the southwest “would blow this volcanic ash north over the North Pole.” Instead, the winds pushed the ash straight into Ryanair’s No. 1 base of operations, Britain, while forecasts suggest the ash “is going to spread back over (No. 2 base) Ireland sometime tomorrow and into Sunday.”

When asked how much income this massive lost business would cost Europe’s most profitable airline, O’Leary demurred.

“We’ve never dealt before with cancellations on these unprecedented scales. We’ll count the cost later,” he said.

O’Leary forecast that Ryanair might start rebooking thwarted passengers on to flights Monday evening or Tuesday, but even that would require the ash threat to disperse.

Flying into the ash, he said, “would do untold damage. It would be effectively sandblasting a plane, and it’s even more dangerous than that.”

He said Ryanair had covered 130 aircraft at its two biggest hubs, London’s Stansted and Dublin, with plastic sheeting “to make sure that all of this dust, wherever it falls, none of it gets into the engines, tails or wings of our aircraft.”

O’Leary said Ryanair’s booking system was getting overwhelmed with short-term bookings and cancellations, necessitating a longer period for grounding flights. Too many thwarted passengers since Thursday have been trying to rebook on next-day flights, “only to find that those rebooked flights are then canceled,” he said.

Ryanair’s services confined to southern and central Europe are operating normally.

Ireland’s other major airline, Aer Lingus, announced it was canceling all of its European flights through midday Saturday but its transatlantic services to several U.S. cities would continue. The volcanic ash has yet to appear west of Ireland.

(This version CORRECTS Corrects typo in quoted material, graf 7)

will not be displayed