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Regular readers will have noticed that I have a bit of a travel habit. And my wife and I are currently in Tokyo. Our primary excuse for coming here was an SF convention (I was the foreign guest of honour), but you don't fly from Scotland to Japan for a long weekend without taking some extra time to poke your nose around.

Anyway, we were due to fly home tomorrow — Monday, on a long-haul from Narita to Paris Charles de Gaulle, then a connection back to Turnhouse (Edinburgh).

However. Airliners fly along great circle paths — the shortest route between any two points on a sphere — and the great circle between Narita and Paris CDG flies over the northern coast of Russia and then down the Baltic. Which is right in the middle of the ash plume venting from That Damned Volcano, aka Eyjafjallajökull.

And our flight home has just been cancelled (in the early hours of Sunday morning).

We're not in any immediate jeopardy. We've got travel insurance, sufficient money, and enough medication for an extra fortnight. However Tokyo is the most expensive city on the planet, so I think I'm going to be a bit busy today negotiating an extension at our hotel and doing some hasty planning.

The bad news is that the last time Eyjafjallajökull popped its top, in the 1820s, the initial eruption continued for six months. If that happens, we may be hitting the trans-Siberian express. Not to mention doing a whole lot less air travel this year ...


Finally got through to Air France, after a couple of hours of war-dialing. I'm now awaiting the arrival of an e-ticket with us re-booked on basically the same flights, departing next Sunday (i.e. six days late). I am hopeful, if not optimistic ...



Correction: Tokyo is the second most expensive city on the planet. Oslo has stolen the crown.


Now's your chance to stay in a capsule hotel!


also, the trans-Siberian express isn't half bad. Russian trains are awesome.


Why do I get the feeling the trans-Siberian railway is going to get busy, if this keeps up?


Paul: my wife's vegan, and neither of us speak any eastern European languages. Chances of her making it to Moscow alive after a week with no food ...?


Why not try the route Vancouver -> New York -> somewhere in southern Europe / north Africa -> train to Scotland? What could be better than LOTS more travel? (Said he who is comfortably at home....)

Hope you two get home in one piece.


For starters, that involves entering the United States -- a marginally less friendly prospect than entering the late Brezhnev era USSR, and one that I strive to avoid except when it's absolutely essential (as in, when I'm specifically visiting the USA).

Secondly, humping 60+ kilos of luggage through unfamiliar countries where we don't speak the language (North Africa) is somewhat unattractive.

(A more sensible routing would be Narita to Rome, then train from Rome to Paris, Eurostar to London, and train to Edinburgh. Ugly, but survivable.)


I'm stuck in Saigon, when I should be heading back to Berlin. It's admittedly MUCH cheaper than Tokyo (or Berlin, or just about anywhere really) but I've had enough of the humidity. I can't see any easy way out of Asia at the moment, so this morning I'm seriously considering just quitting my job back home and spending a few months touring around SE Asia. I mean, when am I going to have this excuse again?


You might wish to head down to SE Asia - Thailand would normally be the recommendation, but the current political turmoil rules it out. Malaysia can be fun, and Kuala Lumpur's a lot less expensive than Tokyo.

So's Singapore, for that matter.


Roland@9: I suspect that the contents of my bag, containing material legal in Japan, and legal in the UK, is probably not legal in Singapore.


Any news on whether the French rail union has ended their strike?


I visited Hong Kong and Singapore in 1986. Might be fun to see how they've changed ... if I could afford it!

(Hint: two middle-aged adults, one of whom really needs to find some clear space to sit down and finish a novel, and who isn't at home and is therefore unable to collect his royalty checks and deposit them in the bank. We're not in imminent danger of fiscal collapse, and I've got family to call on for help, but we're not footloose and fancy-free twenty-something backpackers any more, either.)

"(A more sensible routing would be Narita to Rome, then train from Rome to Paris, Eurostar to London, and train to Edinburgh. Ugly, but survivable.)"

I completely misread this as "routing via Narnia to Rome" and for just a few seconds had some wonderful visions of Charlie and Feòrag climbing through their hotel room's wardrobe into a land of fauns, Sparkly Unicorns™, and the like.

Good luck with your journey home.


I agree with JReynolds - come on back through the USA. I know we treat all non-citizens in our airports like they're carrying explosives, but if you stop back in DC we'll pick up your tab at the Brickskeller.


@11: Yes, and they've added 8,500 extra seats Sunday. They're also telling people not to show up at the station if they don't already have a ticket. OTOH, the linked article says that Scotland and Northern Ireland may be reopened, little by little.


@5 Charlie

Just take lots of packs of instant ramen - there's unlimited hot water from the samovar at the end of each carriage. And you can buy bread and fruit from old women on station platforms at the twice-daily stops. (Pointing and holding up fingers to indicate price is a perfectly viable shopping method.) So if worst did come to worst and you ended up on the train, yes, you definitely could make it to Moscow alive, albeit terminally sick of Cup Noodles.


Is instant ramen really vegan? I'm not even sure it's food.


If Ireland opens its airspace, you could fly Tokyo-Toronto-Dublin.

You can also get to southern Europe from Toronto.

I don't think you'd need a visa to transit Canada but you should scrub your laptops first. Canada customs will seize all your electronics if they think you have 'too many' MP3 files or movies. It doesn't matter if they've been legally purchased or not.


"Is instant ramen really vegan? I'm not even sure it's food."

Not with the sauces provided, obviously, but add a vegetable stock cube or packet soup instead to the plain noodles and dried veggies and you've got a (sort of, if you don't have anything else to eat) vegan meal. Not that I seriously imagine Charlie and Feorag will take that route!


Claire in Osaka@19: Vegan macrobiotic instant ramen are available in Tokyo if you know where to look.


Hm. Does anyone really believe this volcano story? What's really going on to require the closure of all that airspace...


@Feorag 20 Amazing! Where?!?

Wonderful as the Trans-Siberian railway journey is (and I'd love to do it again myself), it would still leave you stranded in Moscow at the other end, at the mercy of European rail services that are likely to be swamped. How about flying to northern Spain, buying a ferry ticket for Portsmouth valid a couple of days after you arrive, and waiting to see if the wind changes and you can fly into Edinburgh? If not, you could then make your way home by ferry and train.


If you stay for a definite period in Japan, then shifting to Osaka might be cheaper, the Shinkansen's very convenient, also if you have to find different flights it has a international airport although it's not as big as Narita. And I then can point you at a very very friendly Italian restaurant, Osteria Gaudente, which we visited when we were in Japan. We were feeling a little culture shocked and tired, wandering around looking for some food, when we saw an Italian flag. So we went in to enquire about an English menu, and from the back of the kitchen, obviously recognising our terrible Japanese accents a voice piped up, "G'day mate, yeah, no worries we can sort you out.", and so we proceeded to have the best Italian I've eaten, they were more than happy to cater for the vegetarian we had with us, and all of the staff were enormously friendly. (The restaurant is quite near the main station) I won't put a link just in case of spam catching, and also I've just realised from the ratio of gushing about the restaurant to normal comment it does sort of sound like I'm just advertising them. :/

We found that even in Tokyo we could eat relatively cheaply if we bought food from Lawson/7-11 places, although while distinguishing vegetarian/meat food is reasonably easy, reading ingredients to work out if it's vegan is presumably quite hard.



Does anyone really believe this volcano story?

I guessed that LHC / Cern and HAARP did cause the Eyjafjallajökull Eruption to spoil the Kaczinsky Funeral by grounding all planes. Somehow chemtrails are involved, too.


Why not send a large enough part of those 60kg by mail or same other parcel service? That could also take care of your legality concerns ... and the rest of your arguments sounds like rationalizations for not wanting to go. But your remark about medication for a fortnight seems to explain your reluctance. As for the quiet spot: I find trains ideal for working since internet connectivity tends to be spotty at best, minimizing distractions.



who isn't at home and is therefore unable to collect his royalty checks and deposit them in the bank

You have to go and collect physical bits of paper in this day and age? How ... quaint. Why don't they use BACS or CHAPS straight into your Bank Account?


"A whole lot less air travel this year" - sounds good!


Well, you're not the only one to doubt:

Also found it strange right away. I mean a warning is one thing, but officially closing the airspace is quite another.


What a nightmare!

There is cheap-ish accommodation in the Asakusa area (close to Minamisenju station).

Looks like Scottish airports are closed after all. A lot of people are travelling overland from Southern Europe, but Athens and Rome are over-run. Meanwhile, the FO advises travellers to contact the British Embassy regarding money transfers and advise on medication (which pretty much boils down to: contact your relatives and go to a local doctor, i.e. not much use at all).



I work for an airline and the past few days have been great fun devising alternate routings to old standards. If you're in Narita, note that there are 3-4 flights/week to Khabarovsk where you can catch the trans-siberian (you can also do that in Vladivostok). Or if you are more adventurous - and flying on Russian carriers meets that qualification in my book - then you might want to consider hopping one of them to get further east - say to Odessa etc. Another underutilized long haul operator is Turkish Air/TK; they often provide business seats at the same rate as coach for some unknown reason. Once you get to Istanbul there are beaucoup options. EK will get you to Dubai which give you options. One interesting hub we've started using to position crews is Malta. Malta Air has 7 birds flying pretty solid that hub/spoke around Southern Europe. So say fly to Cairo then go via Malta to Madrid or Malpensa. Once you get to Southern Europe - good luck. Hotels booked solid at most airports. French trains have been on strike (thanks guys) and heard trains thru Italy getting chock-a-block. Shortest route timewise would be taking Eitihad 871/97 NRT-AUH-IST for around 1600$/ea connecting to Agean 971/652 IST-ATH-FCO for around 200$/ea; then taking the train from there. Good luck. I'm hopeful this will end in 6 weeks. Been dealing with Mt Redoubt/Alaska and the volcano's in Kamchatka for years. Popular perception that these things belch for 3 days and stop; incorrect.


I didn't think Tokyo is all that expensive for normal people when compared to London. Likely those numbers are for expats with hefty expat pay packages (i.e. including a 100 m^2 apartment in Roppongi Hills). Maybe with the massively-overpriced yen that's changed some.


The first airports in Germany seemingly open again, so maybe the end of the ashcloud is near - but I couldn't help to think that this (Iceland volcano closes of all international traffic, people stranded ...) a bit enlarged (... for several months ...) could have been a cool backdrop for a plausible post-peek-oil neo-victorian steampunk scenario, with people teleconferencing or - if they have to go to far destinations - traveling by low-flying airship or transatlantic steam cruiser ... Pure literature erupting there in Iceland (I wonder if this is again a case of gracious-host-has-to-change-story-plot-because-reality-was-faster).

Ceterum censeo, I think the general class of natural events with effects on the global infrastructure should be called "Eyjafjallajökull events", and said effects should of course be known as "Eyjafjallajökull failures" (or Eyjafjallajökullfail for short) in the sociological literature in future.


various airlines hereabouts have apparently done test-flights (hear reports about KLM, AUA, Lauda) and say they couldn't find anything wrong with the airplanes after landing.

Current info is that Austrian airports will possibly maybe open again from monday, 6am onwards. But might close again, depending on weather.

FWIW it should be possible to fly Austrian from Tokio to Vienna. Which at least gets you smack dab into the center of Europe ..


Matthew Seaman: I like an audit trail.

I get paid in various currencies. If I was paid by BACS transfer, then random quantities of sterling would show up in my account at random times, with no indication of the original currency, value paid, or even the date it was sent on -- making reconcilliation (for tax purposes) a nightmare. With a cheque, at least I know that the amount deposited in my bank a/c on a given date corresponds to a cheque I paid in previously, for a known payment, and I can verify that the exchange rate is sane.


Simon: no, a whole lot less travel is not good -- I'm booked for about eight convention guest-of-honour appearances in the next 12 months, so if this volcano keeps up, a lot of fans are going to be disappointed.


If only there were some planet-wide high-speed rail network, possibly using evacuated tubes for intercontinental jaunts . . .


Charlie, a semi-serious suggestion: check out Seoul if you're stuck in the area. It's cheaper than Tokyo, and if you ignore the meat dishes, the vegetarian dishes are mostly vegan. Just watch out for the oyster sauce and the kim chi with the oyster in it, and Feorag will have lots of options.

Korea's also highly wired.


Try getting out of Tokyo. Hachinoe in the north is lovely tis time of year -- cherry trees everywhere. Not sure about hotel rates but you could eat yourself silly for Y3800 or so. train up/back is about the cost of a couple of nights in Tokyo.


We've just got back to Gloucester UK from Copenhagen - drove to Calais then had to get brother in law to get the ferry across from UK, pick us up and get the ferry straight back again. My advice, not that its worth much, would be don't set off until you've got the whole route back booked.

Southern Europe seems to be OK - so could fly back to there and then get train to Paris, Eurostar to London and then back north.

Best of luck.


The Trans-Siberian is interesting, but without someone who knows Russian in tow, it'll certainly be somewhat more adventurous than you'd wish.

An overnight train runs from Moscow to Helsinki. If you can get that far, it's probably manageable and Finnish newspapers report that there's still plenty of room (the largest obstacle turns to Russia's painful visa bureaucracy). Ferries to Sweden and Germany also have room on board.

That said, the southern Europe route is still likely to be easier.

Finnish air force jets flew through the dust cloud on Friday and the Air Force is reporting "significant accumulation of volcanic dust and high risk of engine damage". If you like maps, you can watch a 5-day forecast simulation of smoke dispersal here:

Though I haven't found Tokyo massively expensive (if you're willing to stay in holes in the wall and like ramen), I'll second the suggestion to head over either toward Kyoto/Nagoya/Osaka or some smaller towns.


Toronto might be your best stopover point: cheaper than Tokyo, English is spoken, it's Commonwealth rather than US, and it's well-positioned for flights as soon as a way to get to Europe opens up. Plus, I'm sure that a few of us could spot you a pint or two while you're in town.


Further to my comment @39

Journey was also an interesting (and expensive) lesson in economics.

We're all used to budget travel prices - book ahead and pay close to marginal cost.

Three day car hire in Denmark - booked ahead £200. One day car hire Copenhagen to Calais - give the car to me NOW £650.

Cost of unplanned iPhone data roaming in Europe over three days accessing travel and news sites (not large downloads of movies or data) - £100.

Trade off of course is the cost of accommodation and time and inconvenience.

Lesson for Charlie (which I am sure he already knows) : it may pay to stay a couple of extra days in order to be able to book ahead at a more discounted rate. Mind you I've no idea what the accommodation costs are in Tokyo.



Can you comment on how volcanic eruptions are usually dealt with, and how the present situation compares with the Alaskan situation? I just can't bring myself to trust media reporting to be factual or, dare I say, accurate.

The point is, I don't know a thing about volcanic ash or about the usual reaction of Airlines and authorities when faced with it. But I know quite a bit about other things the media report about and just how far away from reality those reports usually are ...


Greetings - I see you got lots of responses re Tokyo.

FYI, the IrishTimes has just done a profile of the city ( and said it was not so expensive these days.

Personally, I would also get on the train and spend a day in Kyoto.

Hope it turns out well and that you don't spend all your time reading 'tips'...



The airlines and airports are now agitating to have the restrictions lifted - some planes were sent up for test flights apparently without damage. An "expert" on BBC Radio 4 today said the issue was less planes falling out of the sky (unless you actually fly right through the plume - presumably meaning close to the volcano) than damage to their engines reducing efficiency for the rest of the engine's life. Apparently many other parts of the world cope with this sort of thing without shutdown and there is talk of learning lessons from them.

So it may be that even if the wind doesn't change, things will lighten up soon. But it's being predicted it will take weeks to get everything sorted out again anyway.


I'd say go someplace cheaper. India, maybe? Plenty of vegan cuisine there, plus maybe some inspiration if you travel around a bit.



If you really run out of things to do, two software-related reviews the US JASON military advisory group did in the mid-1980s are now available at

One is on what they deemed radically different computing paradigms/schemes, and the other looks at the megachallenge of writing code for the Strategic Defensive Initiative.

There's also, for obscure reasons, a JASON look at space nuclear power systems.(They, reasonably, liked nuclear).


I love the smell of black swans in the morning (but then I'm safely tucked up in bed at home, nowhere near an erupting volcano and with no immediate travel plans).

Everyone worried about Islamic shoe-bombers, CDOs and peak oil, but it was mother nature that was the real threat all along.

Perhaps all those elderly Poms who've been pining for the good old days of wartime rationing will get their wish. I reckon they'll not like it nearly as much as they thought they would.


When Ruapehu was throwing out ash over central NZ in the mid 90s, the 'real' airliners swing west to avoid it for several weeks. This cost them more fuel, and time. Not sure what happened with the smaller planes that fly lower, and there may be important differences in the nature of the output.


I've done some Wikipedia research on the matter, here is what I came up with:

The two often quoted flights that got into serious trouble after contact with volcanic ash were British Airways Flight 9 which flew into the plume of the Galunggung at night (120km/80 miles downwind of the volcano) and KLM 867 that managed to do the same thing in daylight conditions near Mt. Redoubt in 1982 when approaching Anchorage.

The ash over Europe is - as everyone can attest - invisible. Here is what KLM 867 had to report:

Pilot KLM B–747—‘‘KLM 867 heavy is reaching level 250 reading 140’’ Anchorage Center—‘‘Okay, Do you have good sight on the ash plume at this time?’’ Pilot KLM B–747—‘‘Yea, it’s just cloudy it could be ashes. It’s just a little browner than the normal cloud.’’ Pilot KLM B–747—‘‘We have to go left now. . . it’s smoky in the cockpit at the moment, sir.’’ Anchorage Center—‘‘KLM 867 heavy, roger, left at your discretion.’’ Pilot KLM B–747—‘‘Climbing to level 390, we’re in a black cloud, heading 130.’’ Pilot KLM B–747—‘‘KLM 867 we have flame out all engines and we are descending now!’’

No such observations for Speedbird 9, which didn't have the benefit of daylight.

Now, to put the eruption of our icelandic friend into perspective. It reached a Volcanic Explosivity Index of one. (Described as "gentle".) The VEI is a somewhat quirky measurement of the material ejected. (There is a factor of 100 between VEI 1 and 2, after that it's a factor of 10.)

The eruptions of Mt. Redoubt and the Galunggung reached a VEI of 3 ("severe") and 4 ("cataclysmic") respectively. Meaning that they exjected one-thousand to ten-thousand times as much material.

Do I think that closing European airspace from Scotland all the way to Spain, Northern Italy, Serbia and Ukraine is justified by this volcanic fart? No.


I'm pretty sure the actual airspace affected by Ruapehu was closed. I seem to recall hearing about car engines being stopped dead by the ash at the height of the eruption: the particles were fine enough to clog their air filters.

Personally, I wouldn't be at all keen to take a seat on a carrier that flies their planes through a cloud of ground glass and then says "nah mate, no worries, they look alright to us". That could be because all flights from where I live cross 1000km of trackless ocean, of course.

I don't think the VEI is a particularly useful thing, here. Magma hitting water may not mean a particularly large eruption, but it does produce vigorous clouds of extremely fine and damaging ash.


Reading all this I'm glad that I've not yet taken on my new job, which I'm due to start in by July. If I were in my new job now I'd most likely be stuck somewhere in the southern hemisphere. As is the only way I'm directly affected is that I'm not getting my pre-ordered mid-April newly released books as the air mail system US-Europe is disrupted. Dang, MacMillian why do you force Tor to forego participation in webscriptions? You're indirectly causing prolonged withdrawal pains for this bibliovore.

I'm pretty sure the actual airspace affected by Ruapehu was closed. I seem to recall hearing about car engines being stopped dead by the ash at the height of the eruption: the particles were fine enough to clog their air filters.

ObSF: "The Year When Stardust Fell". I'm wondering if something like what you described was the inspiration for Mr. Jones. I was young enough when I read this that it severely creeped me out.


I'm with you on this one, Chris. Me no fly through volcanic cloud.


Well, there are 2000 km between mainland Europe and Iceland. That does put quite a bit of distance between us and the volcano.

If something similar to the European situation had happened after the the eruption of the Galunggung near Jakarta, they would have closed the air-space all the way to Alice Springs! (And considering the fact that the eruption was much larger - probably the rest of Australia too, if not all the way to New Zealand.)

No, I think that this was a decision that is perfectly at odds with reasonable thinking. At least on par with the ban on liquids in airplanes.

There is such a thing as warnings, additional inspection cycles and strong advise to avoid certain altitude levels in certain areas. But what happened here is simply ludicrous.


There was this cheesy althistory/fantasy/technothriller series by Peter Albano where the premise was a deus ex machina like system of amok-running weapon satellites shooting down any jet or rocket engine driven flying object, resulting in military (and civilian) aviation being limited to piston engined propeller driven planes flying by VFR, making the "missing seventh carrier" of the Pearl Harbor attack, which recently was freed by thaw after decades of being enclosed by arctic ice, the most powerful warship in existence. No, I'm not making this up:

But a world without air travel and military jets, caused by near continuous eruptions of the Icelandic volcanoes? Seeing the real world consequences of the current eruption (only flight in Northern Europe currently being low and slow by VFR and mostly helicopters and "sport" propeller planes) it seems like a good premise at least for a novella.


From memory, it was like that in Palmerston North for 2-5 days, while the 737s etc were diverting west for weeks. Not sure how long Palmy (or say Rotorua) airport was closed. There may well have been a 'safe zone' moderately close to the plume most of the time, as light stuff gets thrown high, and won't come down for a long time. It's a lot more reasonable to close a chunk of airspace for a over-cautious timeframe when the economic consequences are minor.


LAX surprised me the last two years by being friendly and efficient. It compared OK with Brisbane, CDG and Schipol.

At Bristol, OTOH, the old LAX approach has been taken up, except for our own citizens.

I wouldn't wish to generalise to all US airports, but I did form the view that the change of government might have produced a change of attitude, even before anything definite was done. Then again, the Governator has been on English TV inviting people to visit or come and work, which could have caused logic.

How about an Ekranoplan, rather than airships and such like? I mean for the extended cases, rather than getting our author back home.


We're lucky accommodation-wise insofar as we've got a small double room in a hotel in Akihabara for the equivalent of £86/US $130 a night -- very cheap by Tokyo standards.

Money isn't a problem in the short term. Suggestions to (go visit other country $X) are silly -- short-notice flight bookings are always priced steep (bathtub curve pricing applies), and we'd be cutting loose from our EU carrier's legal commitment to get us home (eventually).


tp1024: I don't think we really want to be basing air-safety decisions on Indonesian best practice. Is Air Garuda allowed back into Europe yet?


On risk and statistics: the individual risk to aircraft is probably quite low with this particular ash cloud.

However, there are roughly 22,000-25,000 aircraft movements in the affected zone daily.

If the risk of a serious incident (e.g. loss of engines, forced landing) due to the ash cloud is only 1 in 100,000, then if normal operations had been pursued we'd probably have seen at least one serious incident already. And having airliners falling out of the sky over northern europe at a rate of two a week would, I think, be classed as unacceptable by the general public.


At least in the short term it looks like flights will start to move to some areas Monday afternoon UK time (unless weather shifts again). The problem is going to be a lack of capacity to handle extra people in addition to those people already booked on limited flights. Fortunately for you, those people who are on return legs are being given priority. One of my co-workers was told that even if flights were to resume in full on Tuesday, absent cancellations or additional planes the next seat they had for him right now was Friday. April 30. His original flight was to be Yesterday, JFK-London.


Arthur: we spent ten days in Kyoto on our last trip to Japan (in 2007). We could do a day-trip, but it's two hours each way by Shinkansen, which somewhat eats into the available time.


Take it as an opportunity. Write a novella or short story incorporating society's reaction to the loss of an expected facet of modern life - using people's reactions/stupidities as basic fodder for the storyline. Nothing like the authenticity of being able to see it first hand.

Sell it to a TV company for a one off special drama.

You'd make back more than its costing you.


Ian Smith @64: a 21st century version of The Machine Stops, perchance?


On risk and statistics: Actually, not necessarily. With the numbers you used, Charlie, after 10 days of flying the probability of at least one incident would still "only" be 90%. Right now, after 5 days, we are at ca. 70%.

Still way too high, so your point is still valid.


OK so you've got a Schedule now you can relax and enjoy the extra time ,so, time to see the real japan and what better place to start than Japan Disneyland and Disney Sea(not kidding - this is where real japanese people go the number of foreigners as everywhere in japan approaches zero). Then pop over to the Tokyo City Museum and try and work out who started the late unpleasantness with the USA and how it ended based soley on the information in the Museum (you've probably done that already though). Food for discussion is which is the more "real" experience. THeres also a great german style beer hall in Ginza owned by Sapporo i think which is again authenticly Japanese since its not as you would assume a recent themed rip off but dates right back to the Meiji restoration (ie its an old traditional themed rip off - but its a difference).


Was your original flight with Air France? , the official advice page for UK stranded passengers states 'If you are flying from a European Union (EU) airport or with an EU airline the airline must provide food and accommodation if you are stranded', in which case accmodation problem solved. Page has other useful links.


The airlines are screaming that they're going broke. Flights must resume or else we're all doomed! The volcano pays no heed. Sunday comes. Lucky you, it turns out your Air France flight will be the very first flight into Paris since mount whatsitsname began to hurl.

Do you take the flight?


Do you take the flight?

Probably yes.

Reasoning: it's a Boeing 777ER wide-body, and it's going to be full (350+ passengers). Cost of airliner: $200M. Civil liability if they total it and kill everyone: well over $500M. Cost of adverse publicity: priceless. Coming on top of the existing losses from the volcano, it'd literally kill Air France.

So they will not fly that plane into Paris CDG unless they're sure it'll land safely in front of the TV cameras.

But that's not going to happen.


Well, the reason we had 30 hours' notice that our flight home was cancelled is that AF knew they couldn't fly it, because the aircraft hadn't arrived in Japan, because it was grounded somewhere else. Before they start flying wide-bodies in from the pacific rim, they'll be moving smaller stuff around and then sending wide-bodies out, and then getting wide-bodies back from places like New York (where passengers are also stranded). That 777 I'm booked on might be the first flight back to Paris from Tokyo, but it certainly won't be the first flight into Paris after they re-open the airport.


Ian: acute stress and creativity do not, in my personal experience, play well together.

That is: if I'm stressed to fuck by, for example, being stranded on the wrong side of the planet, I am much more likely to sit gibbering in a corner than to start writing.

(I have occasionally written through stress, but it tended to be chronic stress, and it doesn't often work for me; "Lobsters" was an exception and happened after the immediate stress was relieved.)


Still banned for Choice-Theft in the First Degree (not to die in a badly maintained boltbucket) ;)


The best source of information seems to be here:

The latest chart as of this post says that the erruption has "virtually ceased". It also shows just how far the clouds have spread, and predictions to 0600 GMT on Tuesday 20th. Note that the clouds are getting close to North America.


It's multiple weeks, largely in Russia, and several kinds of visa faff, not to mention bucket loads of money to get from Tokyo to London entirely by train. I'm told there's enough English spoken to cope, but I'd not be confident of finding vegan food of sufficient nutritional usefulness in the middle of Siberia.

It is also theoretically possible to go the other way around, and I think the Chinese and Indians are probably better with vegan food than the Russians. However the visa nightmare is massive, and there are some dodgy areas safety-wise.

Either way you would end up out of range of airports (if flights become possible again) for days at a time. Which makes these things sensible propositions only if the disruption to flights is expected to continue for a very long time.

I assume that if you are stuck long enough then they will manage to route a plane some other way (there are still European airports open). Or send a boat. Or, well, something.


I can't help but think that being stranded in Tokyo is going to end up in one of his books . . . set off-world, of course.


All this talk about the Trans-Siberian and NO ONE has linked to a YouTube video of the band yet? ;-P


I've got a grown daughter teaching English to Japanese school children in Tokyo. Not available during much of the work day, but could be helpful late afternoon and evening with finding things, navigating the train system, or language issues.

Reply direct if you're interested in her contact info:


note: you can follow "AshAlerts" as well as "eurocontrol" on twitter for updates re the whole situation


Hear Ye hear ye Hot air balloons are coming back in style, just remember to get the jetsttream direction right before you ascend. Also remember to pack warm clothes and rations.

The standard jetstream travels with approx 400-800 km hour (i think), so you should be able to get from tokyo to edinbourgh in, let's say a couple of weeks.

Only drawback is the rugged terrain in Scotland. Maybe you'll have to put it down in Wales and jump on a train,but you'll probaly be happy with a train ride after spending 2 plus weeks suspended in a basket 8 km up in the air.


"Trans-Siberian express"? It's a very slow express!

FWIW, Rome to Paris by train is a lovely journey, and will avoid any visa stupidity.


If this goes on, will Europe create a second hub in the south? Why doesn't Spain get more of this business anyway? The American media doesn't really explain why everything goes through GB.

So they will not fly that plane into Paris CDG unless they're sure it'll land safely in front of the TV cameras.

But does AF's institutional risk analysis structure capable of better decision making than--for the sake of argument--RBS?

Unless they're planning to personally cash out with a golden parachute, managers rarely set out to blow up their companies. Managers, however, are often too ignorant of risk to avoid blowing up their companies by accident.


Marian @81: There's surely at least some historical accident in there, but also, the shortest (great circle) routes from North America to Europe all go over the Arctic. Coming from the northwest down into Europe, London, Amsterdam, and Paris are all pretty sensible hub positions.

I don't know what the great circle routes from eastern Asia to Europe look like, but I would bet they also go over the Arctic and come back down into Europe from the northeast. It probably doesn't make sense for the airlines to maintain a separate set of hubs for those routes, even if it hadn't been for the Cold War making St Petersburg and Minsk and Kiev ... inconvenient.


A tourist sight that I can definitely recommend if you're in Tokyo and have the time to kill, is the Ghibli museum in Mitaka.


As much as TSR is a horrible idea practically, it does sound like an awesome story, especially if the disaster is cranked up a few notches.


I was joking about the Trans-Siberian Railway. (Apparently it takes around 4 weeks to get the appropriate visas anyway.)



The British and US are sending naval carriers to rescue people in Europe. Not that that would help you.


I didn't have the time to read through the comments, but if you want somewhere cheap but pretty and fun to visit on your way back that's definitely not affected by ash clouds, you could always stop off in Taipei in Taiwan for a few/several days. I was living there until about a month ago (back in Scotland) and I can even give you recommendations of where to go to eat and what to see.


What I also meant to say that's actually more relevant is that where Tokyo is really expensive, Taipei is ludicrously cheap. You'll eat out and eat well every day for very, very little at all (helps if you like Chinese/Taiwanese cuisine, though)


charlie: "Paul: my wife's vegan, and neither of us speak any eastern European languages. Chances of her making it to Moscow alive after a week with no food ...?"

Aren't both bread and vodka vegan? :)


Many thanks for explanation, Zack. This has been bugging me for days....


Zack: FinnAir is marketing Helsinki as a European hub to Asia, for just that reason.


I've got the BD of Transsiberian, but still in my to-watch queue. Wouldn't want to take it IRL if it's like the movie, but then again, if real life were like the movie every airplane would have snakes and/or terrorists on board.


@F.kronberg 79

Minor correction to self, the jetstream would take you 'counterclockwise' around the globe (at an pace of 60 to 210 mph), meaning you would have to cross the pacific, the states and the Atlantic ocean in order to get from Tokyo to Scotland. Destination would be something like three to four months away, of balloon flying time that is.

In other words, not an overly efficient option for travel.

Best option is probaly to line up in an conventional airport as soon as the 'no dust window' opens once in a while.

Good Luck getting home, and thx for the prime entertainment you have brought through Saturns Children and the Saga of the Merchant Princes. Hours spent on the the sofa, adventures in an incredible universe, glee.



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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on April 18, 2010 1:15 AM.

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