Grounded by the ash


The mainstream media has been full of photos of the ash cloud from the Iceland volcano eruption that’s the cause of a complete shutdown of incoming and outgoing flights in the UK – and now nearly 20 European countries – since last Thursday.

Here’s one that I think epitomizes the scale of this natural phenomenon possible more majestically than other pics. Quite a dramatic photo, isn’t it? (It was posted to Twitpic by burritojustice who says “via an Icelandic friend of a German friend.”)

So there have now been four days of no aircraft movement in much of Europe: no commercial airline flights in to any airport, and no flights out, to anywhere. Hundreds of thousands of people are stranded in a situation that is very much global, either stuck in Europe awaiting to leave, or stuck somewhere else in the world waiting to get back here.

It’s a living nightmare, one that has no known end.

It’s affected me, too, although nowhere nearly as badly as people who are in the process of their travel. I haven’t started my trip yet and now won’t be making that trip at all.


I was due to leave the UK on Monday morning for San Francisco and then to San Mateo to take part in NewComm Forum 2010, but my flight was cancelled this morning by United Airlines. I was due to deliver the closing keynote at the conference on Friday. There is also a board meeting of the SNCR of which I’m a founding fellow and board member, on Tuesday. Plus, I’d planned to record a live episode of FIR with Shel on Thursday.

I won’t be there now to take part in any of those things, more’s the pity.

Still, the conference will happen and will be a terrific event. (If you’re in the US and have been thinking about going, do go: take advantage of the price discounts.)

I’m a bit philosophical about not making it to California this time. I wasn’t too concerned about going to the US; its was whether we’d make it back or not (my wife was coming with me) without being stuck for days or even weeks, that was the major worry. Mind you, I now won’t be able to visit this store to get one of these (about which I suspect my wife is very philosophical).

Hopefully, the travel situation will improve very soon. Pressure is mounting from airlines and others to relax the severe restrictions, although the ash cloud prognosis is not good for the UK and parts of northern continental Europe for much of the coming week.

Naturally, the Iceland volcano jokes have started flying about already. Here’s just one:

Apparently this a communication problem, the message from money-strapped Europe had letter missing, it should have read “send us your CASH”

See also:


Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Gordon White


    I read your article on volcanic ash as an ‘interested party’, my wife and youngest son are stuck in Spain with no idea when they’ll get back.

    Sorry to hear you’re missing your trip and the chance to get the iPad. I was fortunate to get one delivered by a friend in Glasgow less than 12 hours after the launch and initially I considered it to be a very beautiful toy with no real business use however, I have changed my mind as explained in my recent blog post:

    Hopefully we’ll all be flying again soon but for now I will enjoy the relative quite at home to enjoy my iPad.

    Best wishes


    • neville

      Thanks Gordon. Hoping your family makes it home soon.

      Great post about the iPad. One of those situations that give you the light-bulb moment. Drat, now really wishing I could have made this trip!

  2. Joseph Thornley

    Back to the Future? The 1950s future? The Icelandic eruption really drives home how fragile our technology is. What’s next? The return of the trans Atlantic ocean liner?

    I’m sorry that you won’t be at NewComm, Neville. I was looking forward both to your keynote and a chance to break bread again.

    • neville

      Thanks, Joe. Me too: I was looking forward to seeing you and many others again.

      Re a back to the future picture, I rather like that idea. Imagine: a leisurely cruise across the Atlantic taking days. But only if I can have my cake, er, my tech as well.

  3. Sallie Goetsch (rhymes with 'sketch')

    Oh, bugger! I’ve been so wrapped up in the likelihood that Stefan will have to reschedule his visit (he’s due to arrive here on the 24th) that I forgot about you coming to NewComm Forum. While I know KLM has sent up some test flights and plans to defy the authorities based on their own belief that it’s safe (at least over Holland), that’s not going to get you into the air tomorrow or over to San Francisco. And I’d really hoped for a chance at least to say hi on Tuesday evening.

    @Joseph Trans-Atlantic ocean liners might be pleasant, but more likely is a sudden surge in people using telepresence tools.

    • neville

      British Airways did a test late yesterday. Saw some news reports saying that it indicated that flying jets over the UK is not safe at the moment. Indeed, the weather maps currently show this ash cloud just about stationary above the UK and much of the near continent.

      So seeing you and everyone will have to happen next time, whenever that is. Hopefully before NCF 11.

  4. Stefan Didak

    The UK’s corporate media is overstating things. If you seek out the news about the BA test flight they did the other day and source the actual material you will find the test went remarkably well. According to BA, their test flight “provides fresh evidence that the current blanket restrictions on airspace are unnecessary.”

    Even more interesting is that almost all news sources in the UK are reporting on all this as if Bin Laden has disguised himself as an ash cloud while almost all other media in Europe is reporting things on a much more “grounded” (sorry for the bad pun) and without all the additional scare-mongering. I think the media in the UK is in dire need of, oh, a professional communicator to teach them a few things. :-)

    • neville

      That’s the thing though, Stefan: who do you trust? I hear the volcano experts and the weather people telling me it isn’t safe to fly. I hear the airlines saying it is safe to fly. Both say the safety of travellers is paramount. In the midst of all that is the mainstream media, some of whom it seems to me are looking only for sensation to report.

      Given the risk of what could happen if someone gets it wrong – a small risk, to be sure, but catastrophic if something does go wrong – I go with the people who say it isn’t safe.

      Of course, all a bit moot today as the skies are opened up again.

      • Stefan Didak

        That’s exactly it, a matter of trust. But that’s also where the critical details are more interesting than the dramatization or sensational reporting of corporate media. And the source of information. I’ll give you an example of the details that I think are major factors that show this. :-)

        I’m the first who’ll always take up a bet against the MET office given how they’ve proven to produce unreliable results based on just theory. There’s some personal experience in that area that would be too lengthy to go into but technically I would sooner assume the reverse of their data to be closer to true. Of course it’s a moot point now since it’s been shown that they used assumptions as input data on a model that itself was pure theory while various other (independent) organizations (like German and Dutch aerospace, meteo, etc. groups couldn’t detect or see the things that were projected to be there in the skies.

        When talks were taking place of reopening the media reported on an F16 that was damaged and showed severe ash/glass formation in the engine. All the “trusted” big names in media did and implied that this flight took place that day. Yet the flight took place 3 days before at the height of all the volcanic ash. When pressed for details it wasn’t disclosed where the aircraft flew. When I see details that are quite important being omitted I usually get the impression there’s something more going on. Especially considering that flight radars only had a few flights being tracked, one of them being a classified one. Usually that means it’s a military plane. If that was the F16 it’s clear where it was flying, pretty much straight over Iceland. But people were led to believe it just flew through “some” airspace “somewhere” when it incurred that damage.

        Then BA did a test flight and major “trusted” news sites and governments (in particular the UK and Belgium) reported the results were that it was still unsafe. Yet that was not the result at all according to BA and Willie Walsh the CEO of BA clarified that several times. Of course you can’t just take the word of a single airline for that, given their (financial) interests involved. But that wouldn’t explain why the governments and media would report something that was contrary to the actual findings and what was presented. That actually looks more like various other interests were at work because while something can always be misquoted, an inversion of the content is quite remarkable. Of course, if you then tag the few corporate media sites and put them on a watch for changes and see that some 3 hours later they edited the story without mentioning the edit you really have to start wondering what’s going on.

        In just those two examples it was also clear none of the media provided sources for the information used. Thanks to the internet that’s not too hard to find but it does show that to get actual details one has to look beyond the corporate media. And this whole ash business certainly shows yet again why it shouldn’t be a surprise that so many people have lost or are losing trust in the corporate/mainstream media.

        In the end all this will blow over (including the presumed ash) but what’s more interesting now, after all this, is that according to the MET projections there should be high concentrations of ash in the contoured areas they produced, yet physical test done everywhere inside those regions, now also conducted by more independent research, are showing none of it. I would question not just the interests and agendas of airlines and airports but also those who for several days have stuck to a monopoly position of perceived authority of information.

  5. Allan Jenkins

    I was headed over to Calgary today to work with Jennifer Wah, ABC, on a project, but I, too, am “under the cloud.” I will still be doing (most) of what I was supposed to do there, but at odd hours given the 8 hour time difference.

    My fave oneliner: “We’ll turn off the volcano as soon as you cancel our debt.”

    I was in Copenhagen airport today with my parents (who are now stranded here for another week; luckily, we own a B&B), and noticed the only incoming flight today was from…. Reykjavik.

  6. Ronna Porter

    I know you are a tech watcher as well, Neville. I’m waiting on all the economic impact stories – particularly for components businesses on the island of Britain and Ireland – as time runs out on their ‘Just In Time’ supplies. You may not run out of food, but watch this space for all the impacts. Poor Gordon, it will probably be the last straw …

  7. Scott Monty

    Neville, I’m terribly sorry that you’re inconvenienced by this mess – but better to be inconvenienced at home than stranded abroad, I suppose. On a personal note, I’m disappointed that our long-threatened face-to-face meeting must be postponed yet again. I’m afraid continuing to see Shel just won’t do it for me any longer. ;-)

    • neville

      The day will come, Scott!

      In reality, I am seriously unchuffed at not being able to get to NCF10. Hope to do something virtually on Friday so there in spirit at least.

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