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Paris visitors scramble for ways to get back home

Miri Segal, 36, who lives on Manhattan's Upper

Miri Segal, 36, who lives on Manhattan's Upper West Side, is stranded in a Paris airport, Sunday, after an erupting volcano in Iceland caused many flights to be canceled. (April 18, 2010) Credit: Julien Chatelin

PARIS - The wait continues.

This city has become a microcosm of the agony enveloping Europe as volcanic ash wreaks havoc on air travel: Travelers are stranded thousands of miles from loved ones. Workers are unable to resolve the demands of clients and bosses.

And there's the uncertainty of getting home in time for a father's 90th birthday.

Charles de Gaulle Airport remained closed Sunday, and planes sat stagnant on the tarmac. Roads leading to the airport were virtually empty. And would-be travelers who did reach the airport were frantic in their efforts to line up another exit from the country - if not Monday, Tuesday, or some other day this week.

One route was offered by Air France, which gave a number of passengers the opportunity to board a bus chartered by the airline for a seven-hour, overnight journey south to Toulouse, where an airport was open. The passengers were told they would board a plane for New York's Kennedy Airport - but were also told there would be no guarantee. After a few hours, by 7:30 p.m., those tickets were gone.

But even as airspace closings were extended into Monday, passengers held on to hope - even as meteorologists warned that the airborne ash is, in fact, unpredictable.


New York mom stranded

Miri Segal, 36, was in Paris for an international public relations conference and was due to fly out to New York Saturday. Her two children, ages 3 and 7, were home with their father on Manhattan's Upper West Side.

When Segal realized she might not get home before her husband's planned business trip to Greece, she made baby-sitting arrangements: She booked a flight to New York for her mother, who lives in Israel.

On Friday, she had begun looking for an alternate way home, and stood in line at the Air France office for two hours - only to have the airport close.

She then tried to take a train to Barcelona, hoping she could fly from there. But as she was waited in that line Sunday morning, she learned that Barcelona, too, had closed.

Another option was Madrid, but she couldn't get a train there until Thursday. "After about two hours, I said forget it and went to the hotel and didn't stop looking at the Internet," she said. That's when she learned of the bus to Toulouse.

"I am hoping that the wind won't change, though they say there is no guarantee," she said of the cloud of volcanic ash. But if all goes well, she will arrive in New York at 4 p.m. Monday.

"People say, 'You are in Paris - Have fun!' But how can you have fun with so much uncertainty?"


Missed connections

Henry Feintuch, 56, of Chappaqua had met Segal at the same conference, and she called to tell her fellow New Yorker about the opportunity to get home through Toulouse.

Continental had rescheduled Feintuch for a flight out on Friday morning. But after hearing from Segal, he rushed to the airport to try to get on the bus to Toulouse, arriving at 7:45 p.m. - a few minutes too late.

"I arrived at the airport and got out of the cab and got a call that there were no more seats left," Feintuch said in a telephone interview. His feeling was one of being "helpless and in awe that Mother Nature still runs the show."

He returned to his hotel near the Place de la Concorde, where he found a glimmer of hope: The staff had not yet closed out his account. So he will call the same hotel room home for the rest of the week - unless he can secure an earlier flight.


An extended visit

At the Starbucks in Terminal 1, Anne Marie Giangiulio, 25, and Peter Hagerman, 28, of the Cleveland suburbs were figuring out how they would spend another week in Paris. They had come for a short visit to the city where she had once studied abroad.

They had been dating only a short while - a recent development they said their employer didn't know about - but the delay in their return would probably change that.

After their calls to airlines went unanswered , they decided to go to the airport in hopes of somehow securing a flight home - despite discouragement from ticket sellers at the railway booth in Paris.

And they managed to get new, though imperfect, reservations: She doesn't fly back until Friday. And he, the following Tuesday.

"Initially, we were kind of upset," Giangiulio said. "And then we realized it was out of our control and we have to take it in stride."

As for their work: "There is nothing anybody can do," Hagerman said. "I can't get there any faster if they are mad."

Now, for a while longer, they just have to enjoy Paris.


No guarantees

For Kathryn and Jim McGarvey, both 49, of Vancouver, the one-week stay in Paris was supposed to be a "quick trip," she said as they stood in line at a car rental agency. Kathryn is a chartered accountant in Canada, where the tax season is just around the corner. And Jim manages a golf course, and that season, too, is about to begin.

So they were contemplating renting a car for a drive to Lisbon, one of the few cities with an open airport. But even if they got a car for the 16-hour journey, there was no guarantee of a flight out.

When they reached the front of the line, the decision was made for them. "It's real simple," Kathryn said. "There is no car. They are all booked."

Their return flight is Sunday.


Skeptical travelers

At the somber airport Hilton, Mark Arthur and Ville Lauren, both of suburban Columbus, Ohio, are not scheduled to fly out until Thursday. And they're skeptical about that.

Like several other business travelers from the United States, they were sitting in the bar sipping pints of lager. "It eases the pain a little," joked Lauren, 35, of Dayton.

The two made the best of their Saturday by going to downtown Paris for a day of sightseeing: the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Seine. "We both have families and we want to get home to see family, but we are both pretty levelheaded, too," said Arthur, 36, of Springfield, Ohio. "What can you do?"

Still, he said, he was "pretty mad this morning" when he learned they can't leave until Thursday." His daughter is in the middle of volleyball season, and he was supposed to see her play tomorrow. "It's disappointing," he said.

Holed up in hotelRon Phillips, 60, of LaVernia, Texas, admitted things could be worse than being a "refugee in the Hilton." He was with colleagues from work, relaxing in T-shirt and jeans. But his father's 90th birthday is approaching and a party is scheduled for Friday in Florida.

He hopes to make it there: He's scheduled to leave Monday on a train for Frankfurt, where he expects to fly out tomorrow.


Beer and a laptop

David Zuren, 45, of Cleveland said he was supposed to leave Saturday and is now tentatively scheduled to leave midweek. If that doesn't work? He will head to the company's office an hour outside of Paris.

As he worked on his laptop, he drank from a bottle of Corona and conceded, "It's getting a little boring."

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