The crisis, which passed through its fourth day, provided a vivid reminder of the degree to which millions in the developed world have come to depend on regular airline travel for tourism, family visits, business and commerce in perishable goods. Eurocontrol, the Brussels-based body that regulates continental air traffic, said about 28,000 flights would normally have been scheduled in the skies over Europe for Monday but fewer than a third of them were able to take off.
U.S. tourists - and you knew this was coming - feel neglected by their local consulates, and are perplexed that no one from the U.S. government has magically whisked them home already.
U.S. travelers in Paris complained the U.S. consulate there did not seem to have concrete advice on how to get home, suggesting instead that they sign up on a list and be patient. "I find it pretty troubling that travelers are informing the embassy about what's going on right now," said Timothy Newell, a nurse from Richmond, Va. "They don't seem to have much interest in our plans or what we're going to do."
I'm sure it's unpleasant to have your April vacation in Paris extended by a few days. But allow me to point out that Mr. Newell hasn't been robbed or assaulted, he isn't freezing or starving, and he hasn't been the victim of terrorism. At worst, he's out of money and needs an emergency loan.
As for the lack of concrete advise on how to get Mr. Newell home, I'm sure the U.S. consulate is open to suggestions. If Newell figures out how to get himself home, can he pass the secret along to President Obama? The U.S. government wasn't able to get Obama to Poland yesterday.
Update at 9:30 PM
Dipnote has stated the obvious, as must be done at times like this:
The Department of State is sympathetic to the thousands of travelers who have been unable to get to their destinations because of the volcanic ash cloud in Europe that has hindered air traffic. We are in close contact with the European authorities at all times and are doing everything possible to assist stranded U.S. citizens who require emergency consular assistance.
-- snip --
The Department of State is not evacuating U.S. citizens at this time. U.S. Government evacuation options are constrained by the same factors that are affecting commercial transportation. Furthermore, U.S. Government-facilitated travel by sea would take time to arrange and undertake, by which point commercial travel is likely to have resumed. The cost to travelers to repay an evacuation loan would be equivalent to the commercial rates for cross-Atlantic sea travel.
Translation - we feel your pain, we share your concern, we wish we could help, but we have no magic carpets to fly you home on. Just sit down, keep your cool, and wait for the crisis to pass.