That volcano in Iceland, with the unpronounceable name, might have been spectacular and may have been responsible for some remarkable sunsets but she sure has a lot to answer for. The nasty damage and the air space closures, not to mention the wasted TV viewing hours that accompanied this natural catastrophe. Looking at round the clock reportage of this volcano was mesmerising, like staring at a log fire that crackles and burns, except that as we watched, the volcanic ash spewed into the atmosphere and crippled the airways across Europe. She belched her ashen plume and the travellers of the world were stranded. The European skies slept while the airline passengers and those in the industry suffered sleepless nights.
As I sat glued to the BBC trying to work out the impossible — when flights would resume and how quickly the aviation world could return to normal – I realised something. I take travel for granted. I take the airplanes, the air traffic controllers, the ground staff, the flight crews, the meteorological experts and all those people who shuffle us around in the skies and care for our safety totally for granted. I assume that I will be able to travel when and where I want on any given day and that the person who will make those decisions will be me. How presumptuous I was and how Mother Nature has made fools of us all. I am dependent on the airlines to live the life that I have chosen. My family and friends are scattered around the world in both hemispheres and without the ‘friendly skies’ my life as I live it would have to change – choices that I don’t want to ever consider would have to be made.
As the volcano tires, the airways clear and the flights resume, the inevitable criticisms crank up. Stranded passengers are complaining of their long and expensive journeys. Experts and analysts are querying whether the airspace restrictions were too over zealous. Yes, these delays were tiresome, costly and extremely inconvenient. Sadly, important and memorable occasions were missed that can never to be re-captured. Perhaps the aviation authorities were overly cautious and the financial implications will be graver than necessary. But during this hiatus, has anyone thought how lucky we are to have such mobility in the first place? Do we ever reflect on the miracle of these air movements? Thousands and thousands of aircraft in European skies transport passengers to their loved ones, their holiday destinations, their business meetings or their farms in Provence on a daily basis – most of the time safely, on schedule and without incident. From now on I am going to appreciate the privilege of travel.
I am going to reflect on my good fortune when I travel from one side of the world to the other. From now on I will feel forever indebted to those forefathers of aviation… because I never knew what I had until it was gone. xv