Transport operators rally round to help grounded air passengers

All non-emergency flights have been grounded in the UK, Ireland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark, leaving air travellers to find alternative modes of transport. The disruption will last for at least 24 hours as a cloud of volcanic ash drifts across northern Europe from Iceland.

European air navigation coordinator Eurocontrol said the main north Atlantic eastbound flow had arrived at European airports with little disruption. Routes to handle the afternoon westbound flow had been moved to the south to avoid the volcanic ash zone, but it was expected that traffic would be disrupted.

In the UK, train and coach operators have been laying on extra services, particularly on cross-border journeys between Scotland and England. Both National Express and megabus.com said they were running additional coaches. Virgin Trains, which runs London to Scotland rail services on the West Coast Main Line, said it had seen a large increase in customers and had put on extra trains.

Channel Tunnel high-speed rail company Eurostar said its trains from London to Paris and Brussels were filling up fast. A spokeswoman said: "We don't like it when people travelling on other transport modes get disrupted but we have certainly seen an increasing volume of passengers contacting us to book journeys. Our capacity for today is rapidly filling up and we are expecting to be particularly busy over the weekend with people also returning from Easter holidays."

And P&O Ferries reported an increased number of passengers on its Dover-Calais route and on crossings from Hull to Rotterdam and Zeebrugge.

A P&O Ferries spokesman said: "It is very difficult to recall a situation quite like this. For example we have just booked a gentleman on to our Dover-Calais service who is bound for Beijing which he now intends to reach via a flight from Paris instead of London. Likewise our North Sea services are being heavily booked by airline passengers who now intend to fly from Schiphol airport in Amsterdam instead of London.

"All available staff have been called into our contact centre. We are effectively operating at peak summer pace on what is normally a quiet Thursday in April."

Hundreds of people were evacuated from their homes in south-west Iceland after a volcanic eruption at Eyjafjalljokull, which is part of the Mount Katla range. If volcanic ash particles are ingested into a jet engine, they accumulate and clog the engines with molten glass.

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