With the chaos surrounding international travel for the past week, disaster stories about airport delays, cancelled flights and failed holidays are flooding the Internet.

Three days ago, Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland erupted for the second time in a month, causing a plume of volcanic ash to drift south and east, affecting all air travel in Europe.

Volcanic ash and steam have a horrific effect on aeroplanes, entering engines and forcing them to stop working. The Guardian and AP report that this eruption happened under a glacial cap. If there is enough ice water coming into contact with lava, it may cause the lava to freeze, thereby turning it into glass.

Colin Macpherson of the University of Durham comments:

When there is lava erupting close to very cold water, the lava chills quickly and turns essentially into small glass particles that get carried into the eruption plume.

The risk to flights depends on a combination of factors — namely whether the volcano keeps behaving the way it has and the weather patterns. We’re sitting in the north wind at the moment.

Naturally, international travel has been chaotic since this eruption. Airspaces across Europe are closing temporarily, amid rumours of delays for as long as one week, according to Icelandic geologists who examined this plume.

“There are no shortages yet, but we may start to see certain ranges affected if this carries on,” said Christopher Snelling, head of global supply chain policy for the Freight Transport Association.

NPR reports:

Italian aviation authorities were closing airspace in northern Italy on Saturday until midday (1000 GMT; 6 a.m. EDT), with airports in Milan and Venice to close.

Denmark and Finland’s airspace also remained closed, while Norway and Sweden said some air space in the far north could be opened as the cloud moves south. Air space in the central and southern parts of the Nordics was expected to remain closed at least until Sunday afternoon.

Serbia also closed a small strip of its airspace in the north of the country and said it could close more later. Belarus and Ukraine introduced closures and restrictions.

Australia’s Qantas canceled all flights to Europe on Saturday, and passengers were being offered refunds or seats on the next available flight. The airline said it was not known when flights would resume. Cathay Pacific was already canceling some Europe-bound flights leaving Hong Kong on Sunday.

All of this has led to an internet phenomenon (and a trending topic on Twitter) known as GetMeHome. There is a Facebook group at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=111731495524306&ref=mf aptly titled ‘When Volcanoes Erupt: A Survival Guide for Stranded Travelers’

On Twitter, an international community of tech-savvy and connected people are planning trips together, arranging places to stay and discussing the best and fastest ways to get to certain destinations. Strangers are offering lifts to one another; opening up their homes; passing on details of their friends to help with coordinating travel plans; and just about everything else you would expect a group of seasoned travellers to talk about with aquaintances.

Cars are being volunteered. Ferries are being paid for by those with money to spare. Anyone stranded in airports, towns, railway stations or hotels finds people to rent cars and make travel arrangements with.

Here is just a sample of the sort of messages and tips being shared online:

RT @Techhub: Some are suggesting that anyone stranded by the ash use #getmehome to pool resources together. Please RT #ashtag

#getmehome #roadsharing #ashtag From Turate Como To Milano http://tinyurl.com/y344oz9

RT @whatswhat_sian: RT @Lisaansell: Can anyone put up a stranded environmental researcher in Washington DC before his flight back to UK Monday? #getmehome

RT @samatlounge: RT @calaisrescue We are planning five crossings between Dover and Calais tomorrow. We can carry roughly 42 people per crossing. #getmehome

Offer of taxi tomorrow morning to Calais from #Milan. 200 euros pp – let me know asap if you are in! #volcano #ashtag #getmehome

Gestrandeten Flugpassagieren wird der Hashtag #getmehome empfohlen, um sich gegenseitig helfen zu können. http://bit.ly/djOZk3

RT @chippy: Dunkerque to Koeln/Bonn via Brussels. 3 places free in my car on Monday 1500. #ashtag #getmehome #roadsharing

If anyone is stuck abroad and needs to get back to blighty use the #getmehome tag. Seems to be lots of helpful people about.

RT @paulaeager: Now that’s a pretty cool thing to do! RT @Mojo_Marty If anyone is stranded in Dublin and needs a bed DM me! #getmehome

RT @DealDrivers Well done @calaisrescue for the #getmehome #ashtag effort tomorrow. Nice to see everyone pulling together

RT Twitter coming into it’s own with #getmehome tag, people sharing lifts, accomodation etc. Bringing the Twitter community together

Many people have echoed the sentiments above; it truly is amazing how quickly people respond to offers of lifts; arrangements to hire cars and plan ferry journeys etc, all with complete strangers.

Where is the guarantee that your travel partners will be safe, sane and solvent? None whatsoever; yet the shared experience of being stranded, away from home, work or holiday plans, brings all of us together in such a unique way.

Dozens of users have commented on this wonderful scheme of connecting people, and suggested we should carry on organising holidays like this after the ash cloud has passed.

It’s really rather beautiful. When one user Tweets information about spare rooms and a car’s availability, another will Retweet that, adding he can offer the same option in his city.

Offers have been accepted, prices and other details ironed out and meeting points arranged. Thanks, declarations of “You’re a saviour”, “You’ve made my day because now I can go home to my kids”, “You’re so sweet, I’ll bring you some sweet bread from Slovakia!” and even “Finally, cocktails in Italy!” are not uncommon.

The experience of being delayed, stranded and otherwise seriously inconvenienced is one of the worst experiences a traveller can go through. However, the process of sharing your travel plans and ideas for getting across the continent has cheered up so many.

Nearly everyone who’s offered a ‘service’; everyone who’s responded to one; and others of us who are fortunate enough to have a few days before we need to travel have noticed how upbeat fellow globe-trotters feel after Tweeting #getmehome.

No one wants to go through this again; but we all hope to stay in touch with each other and go on such spontaneous adventures soon. It’s a testament to the power of connections – albeit a superficial, much more futuristic sort than we would have thought – in the 21st century. One which I’m certain will revolutionise the face of travel from now on.

If any of you find yourselves stranded in the next few days, Tweet #getmehome and add your location and destination details. Trust me, you’ll get there in one piece and make more than a handful of friends on the way.


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