2010 will not go down as a banner year for European travel. Strikes, mysterious ash clouds and heaps of snow have all conspired against tourism on the Continent.
It is partly their own fault. While strikes certainly aren’t uncommon in Europe, there seemed to be more of them this year and their duration, at least to the casual observer, appeared to be much longer than normal. One of the worst was the strike affecting British Airlines, which ended up stalling flights for days. More recently, the Spanish air traffic controller strike also left passengers stranded. Throughout Europe there were strikes and riots affecting all modes of travel due to new austerity measures some governments were forced to put into place following the economic downturn. Greece, more than any other country, seemed to be the most collectively angered at these measures, turning Athens into a tourist’s nightmare rather than a dream destination.
Most of the problems though were no one’s fault, except for Mother Nature. In a strange fluke of geological and meteorological bad luck, the unpronounceable Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull wreaked incredible havoc. We were in Europe at the start of this disaster and witnessed firsthand the problems it created.
I remember waiting in Philadelphia for a flight destined for Madrid when suddenly the departure boards all started fluttering the ominous word CANCELLED. Obviously nervous about our own trip, we boarded the plane with trepidation, thankful we were allowed to leave at all. It wasn’t until we were in Europe that the full scope of the volcanic ash cloud set in. We were fortunate, Madrid at that time was unaffected and most people were trying to get to Spain in order to fly out of Europe. While the cloud did complicate our journey to Morocco, we were able to rebook on another airline and enjoy our vacation without any interruptions.
The French and British travelers in our Marrakech hotel though were not as fortunate. Every day they were packed into the business center, frantically searching the web for a way, any way, to get back home. Hopefulness turned into desperation as the cloud persisted and their funds became depleted. The hotel worked with them to a degree, but ultimately could not house them for free.
Leaving Madrid on our way back to the United States was an adventure, battling crowds of people all desperate to get back to their homes, both in Europe and elsewhere. Airline employees were just as stressed, obviously frustrated that Mother Nature had given them no options in helping people travel home.
On a personal note, it was this trip that convinced me how important travel insurance can be to the average tourist. Also, I have to acknowledge easyJet who followed through on their refund of our tickets to Morocco after they were unable to reposition an aircraft to Madrid.
Ash wasn’t the only thing hampering European travel, more recently freakish snow storms have had a profound affect on parts of Europe during the busiest travel time of the year.
Massive snowstorms, resulting in the most dramatic accumulations in twenty years, stalled travel throughout parts of Europe including the UK, France and Germany. Of course, just as in the case of the ash cloud, the ramifications of these travel slow downs were felt world wide. The closures, or even just massive delays, results in frustrated travelers in all parts of the world, not just Europe. While the snow certainly is no one’s fault, the response to it was.
I realize that certain parts of Europe are not accustomed to this level of snowfall on a regular basis, but the fact that a couple of inches of show was able to completely halt European travel is a travesty. Obviously there should be some resources at the disposal of airport officials in the eventuality of this situation. After all, it’s not the Bahamas and snow DOES fall.
Although Europe has had a hard year, 2011 can only be better, right? It’s actually a great time to visit Europe and given the economic downturn, the Continent is dependent on an increase in tourism now more than ever. While certain airfares may be high at times, there are bargains to be had for the traveler willing to hunt for them. I for one can’t wait to return to Europe in 2011.