The unprecedented international air travel crisis caused by volcanic ash from Iceland worsened on Saturday and experts warned that the disruption was likely to continue for several days as much of the European airspace remained closed for the third day with millions of passengers stranded around the world.
The ban on flying in Britain, barring some domestic flights, was further extended until Sunday but with no sign of the ash dispersing quickly officials said the “prognosis” was grim.
“We need a change of wind direction that stays changed for several days and there is no sign of that in the immediate future,” Professor Brian Golding, head of forecasting research at the Met Office, told the BBC.
He said the volcanic cloud would remain over the U.K. for several days.
Airlines were reported as saying privately that flights were unlikely to be resumed until the middle of next week. Aviation officials insisted that the skies must be “absolutely clear” before planes were allowed to take off.
“Safety is our number one priority. We know that volcanic ash is a very hazardous substance,” said a spokesman of the National Air Traffic Control Service (Nats) and experts said even a tiny amount of ash could cause aircraft engines to seize up.
As the number of European countries affected by the crisis rose to 24 with France, Germany, Italy, Poland, and Scandinavian nations among the worst-affected. The European air traffic control organisation held out little hope of an early improvement in flying conditions.
“Forecasts suggest that the cloud of volcanic ash will persist and that the impact will continue for at least the next 24 hours,” it said in a statement.
Uncertainty added to the woes of those caught up in the crisis with holiday makers stranded abroad reported to be running out of money; and supermarkets, dependant on imported food, warning of imminent shortages as supplies threatened to dry up.
There were chaotic scenes at train stations and ports. Eurostar said it was struggling to cope with the extra demand and warned people not to come to the station unless they had firm bookings. Ferry operators reported up to 50 per cent increase in bookings and some hiked their prices prompting accusations of profiteering.