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Would-be European travelers deal with grounded flights

Jill and Joel Spiegel of Commack were set

Jill and Joel Spiegel of Commack were set to travel to Italy last Sunday when the airline canceled their flight due to the ash cloud from the volcano in Iceland. Credit: John Dunn

As some European airports reopen after last Wednesday's volcanic eruption in Iceland, the ash cloud continues to disrupt flights to and from most of Europe, leaving travel agents and would-be travelers scrambling to deal with the historic interruption.

The cloud has grounded Commack couple Jill and Joel Spiegel, who had planned to be enjoying a long-delayed Italian vacation by now.

Two previous attempts to go to Italy were put off by a death in the family five years ago and Joel Spiegel's bicycle accident virtually on the eve of their planned departure two years after that.

But last Sunday's trip looked like it finally would happen. Jill Spiegel said her husband, 69, who had been battling cancer, was feeling well, and even the weather had looked good.

"My husband just had a checkup," said Jill Spiegel, 63. "He didn't even go bicycle riding for several days before the vacation. We were all packed. Everything was in the suitcase."

And then Eyjafjallajokull - dormant for almost 200 years - got in the way.

"My husband called me from work and said, 'Guess what just happened?' " Jill Spiegel said.

The Spiegels' travel agent, Penny Cuomo, co-owner of Sunset Travel in Bellmore, said the disruptions reminded her of the aftermath from the terrorist attacks in New York.

"Nobody's ever experienced this situation except with 9/11," Cuomo said.

Travel agents suggested travelers planning to go to Europe or who are stuck there should seek information from their airlines and tour operators. Those stranded in Europe should also try to find alternative modes of travel to unaffected areas.

"People have been quite creative trying to get around," said Carol McParland, owner of Superior Travel in Baldwin. "One is trying to get from London to Rome using the train, ferry and hydrofoil."

While about half the normal number of European flights resumed Tuesday, officials told The Associated Press it would still be weeks before tens of thousands of stranded travelers can be brought home.

But despite the disruptions, "people are still booking travel to Europe," said McParland, adding she just booked a few people who plan to travel to Europe later this month.

"I think people are treating it like something that's happening and going to pass," she said.

Meanwhile, the Spiegels are planning attempt number four in October, although Jill Spiegel said they're not entirely convinced they'll really get to go.

"My husband said, 'What's going to happen in October - a tsunami? An earthquake?' " she said.


What to do if you're affected


If your flight was canceled, consider these tips from Jim Marino, Oyster Bay Travel owner and president of the Long Island Travel Agents Association:

REBOOKING, REFUNDS: Find out your airline's policy on its website. You can try to call the airline directly, but expect long wait times.

RESCHEDULING TOURS: If you had a tour booked, contact the tour operator. Many operators are allowing customers to rebook and apply money they've already spent toward a later tour date.

ALTERNATE ROUTES: If you are stuck in Europe and need to get home, try taking ground transportation to an unaffected area, such as Spain, and flying from there.

ASK YOUR AGENT: For those who used a travel agent, ask the agent to help find a solution for you. And, Marino said, next time always buy travel insurance.

- Jennifer Barrios

The latest


TAKEOFF! Travelers cheered Tuesday as the first European flights took off from Paris, Amsterdam and elsewhere, but the gridlock created by the ash plume was far from over: Officials said it would be weeks before all stranded travelers could be brought home.

ANOTHER ONE? The volcano that prompted the turmoil continued to rumble, and scientists were worried that the eruption could trigger an even larger eruption at the nearby Katla volcano.

U.S. AIR FORCE GROUNDED: All sorties from the 48th Fighter Wing at Lakenheath, England, had been canceled since Thursday.


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