Our Experience We had travelled to Rome on Wednesday evening, 14th April for a long weekend tour of Tuscany with my son, who had flown over from Beijing. We heard about the ash cloud on Friday, 16th and thought that it would have passed by the time of our return flight from Rome on Sunday evening on 18th April. We were so wrong.... En route back to Rome airport we called into a train station to discover that all trains to Milan, Paris and Calais were fully booked until next weekend. We were also told that all hire cars had been booked. Arriving at the airport at 5.30pm for our 7.55pm flight, we were confronted with a departures board which had more cancelled flights that those departing - infact, most of those said to be departing did not! This included my son's flight due to take off at 8.55pm. The airport was crowded with queues of people at the airline desks. We finally reached the desk of AlItalia to be told that we had to call their support number 06-2222. We were told that they would not book us into a hotel and nor would there be any hotel or food allowance (we later discovered that this is against the EU regulation 261). My son had joined the queue for Air China to be told that they would pay for one night's accommodation and they gave him a number to call to rebook his flight  later we discovered that his contact was better than ours! .
Chaos! Whilst the government agencies and airlines clashed over the flight bans, thousands of passengers were stranded and the World Health Organization issued a health warning to Europeans with respiratory conditions.    
Ash from Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano triggered a shutdown of European airspace, paralysing airports and stranding hundreds of thousands of tourists and business travellers. 95,000 flights were said to be affected at a cost of over $1.7 billion to the airline industry.
Ash Cloud over Europe  
Icelandic People The volcano that erupted for the second time in less than a month, melting ice, shooting smoke and steam into the air also forced hundreds of Icelandic people to flee rising floodwaters, farm animals and many farms to be covered in a coat of ash.  
So we made our way into Rome via the 30minute connecting train (cost €14 per person). Upon arrival there were continuous announcements that 'all trains north were booked up to 24th April'. My son went off to find a hostel where he had previously stayed. From here chaos took over!  There were about 200 people in the queue for hotel bookings and a similar number in the queue for the rail tickets. No flights, no trains, no coaches, no rental cars, a long queue for whatever hotels were available and the cash machines ran out of money!  This chaos was rather surprising given that the closure of airspace was in it’s fourth day. We decided that we would store our baggage in the left-luggage and walk around to find a hotel, despite the humid heat. Fortunately, we found another hotel booking desk in the left-luggage hall and the queue was not quite as long. Whilst waiting in the queue we were approached by a hotel tout who offered us 2 nights accommodation for €320. Having been told that accommodation was scarce in the city we decided to take it and got a taxi to the Hotel Virgilio. When we got there we joined the queue of people to check in - only to be told that there was no more room at that hotel and we had been placed into another hotel - but we had to pay the Hotel Virgilio upfront as they had reserved the other hotels. We were as sceptic as the other travellers in the queue and all thought it to be a con, but we all decided to go along with it as it was now 9pm, we were hot and tired and getting desperate! Several of the travellers had been booked into a hotel 3km or more away but, luckily, ours was closer. We got a taxi to the Hotel Fiamma (near the station!) and stayed the night - rather a restless night for me as I was organising an event taking place on Friday and I was concerned about getting back in time. In the morning, we had to check out by 11am and go back to the Hotel Virgilio  We desperately tried to stay at this same hotel to avoid the disruption of moving but were told that we couldn't. So off we trot to the Hotel Virgilio, left our luggage and called back when the room was ready.  We stayed the night - breakfast not good and not worth more than €80 a night - half of what we had paid! We checked out and left our luggage then we walked back to Hotel Fiamma and booked in for 3 maybe 4 nights - at a cost of €90 per night (€70 cheaper than it had been previously paid via the touts of Hotel Virgilio). It was an excellent hotel and fairly close to the railway station for getting back to the airport. For 2 days now we had tried many, many times to call AlItalia but went around in circles with the number. We called 06-2222 and selected option 6 for English language but it didn't work and the call went around in circles - we got to an Italian voice who said to call again selecting option 6 for English !!!!! We even tried from one of the telephone kiosk agencies with the same results. We had emailed the assistance email as supplied (they finally responded 5 days later) and we looked at the news on their website (nothing on the crisis and only the contact number that we already had tried). All Internet cafes had queues out of the doors as people searched for trains and boats and planes to get home. Finally, in desperation we called a contact in the UK who got though to the UK office reasonably quickly and got us rescheduled on a 19.55 flight on Saturday, 24th April - 6 days after our planned flight. We will remember this as the best solution in the future. The uncertainty of homeward plans, inability to contact the airline, lack of alternative travel and hotel situation had caused considerable stress.  What a relief now!  We finally had a flight booking, a hotel and we could purchase an internet connection - the stress started to dissolve.  We finally departed as rescheduled on the 19.55 Saturday flight.  A note for future travellers - when returning to the airport you can buy the train tickets at the station or from newsagents at the station, or in our case from the Hotel Fiamma. In the last few days we had heard of a couple paying €900 for a coach trip to Copenhagen, a couple paid £500 for a propeller plane to Brussels, without any plans of what to do from there and as we searched the internet for alternatives we found the cheapest available flight to be over £1000 ! My son's story was one of calling the airline often once Rome airport was open and then going to the airport to sit in a queue on the wait list, for 12 hours. Being a single person he just managed to get on the evening flight on Wednesday, 21st - three days after his scheduled flight.
Stranded in Rome  
15th to 20th April 2010  
Flight Cancellations