Iceland volcano fears: what you need to know

Iceland volcano fears: what you need to know

Could an erupting Icelandic volcano be about to jeopardise international air travel once more? Four years ago, ash from Eyjafjallajokull wrought aviation havoc in northern Europe, grounding flights for up to a week. Now there are rumblings that suggest another eruption may be imminent.

What is the threat?

The Bardarbunga volcano has been simmering for the past week, but until now the hope was that it was merely what’s known as a “tourist eruption” rather than anything more serious. But yesterday the Icelandic Meteorological Office said that broader seismic activity under the Vattnajokull glacier had been detected - which could signal a significant eruption. They raised the five-point threat level from orange to the highest, red.

We know that Icelandic geology can have a disastrous impact on airline schedules. Why, exactly?

The aviation authorities are extremely focused on preventing aircraft flying through airspace contaminated with volcanic ash, which can damage and even shut down engines if they ingest significant quantities of it. Following the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull in 2010, airspace across northern Europe was closed - which wrecked the travel plans of 7 million passengers and collectively cost airlines over £1bn.

Could things get as bad as in 2010?

Since then there’s been lots of research done to avoid such as calamitous closedown of aviation. But if large expanses of the North Atlantic airspace are closed that could start wreaking some havoc with airline schedules, and lead to cancellations.

What are your rights if you do get stuck abroad?

That all depends where you are, and which airline you are flying with. If you’re in Europe, every airline has a duty of care to passengers - providing accommodation and meals until they can get you home. The stipulation applies indefinitely. Passengers booked on European airlines from elsewhere in the world are also protected by the duty of care.

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