Air Travelers: Volcano Warning (Again)

My husband used to be just a visitor here in Middle Tennessee, which was the case in April 2010, when the Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted in Iceland’s East Volcanic Zone—just one day before he was due to return to home and work in Ireland. Air traffic was suspended (from 15 to 23 April) and millions of air travelers were stranded across the world, including Gerry (although he wasn’t forced to sleep on a couch in the airport). It was actually two weeks before he was able to get a flight back across the Atlantic.

We weren’t paying attention to volcanoes back then—and I suspect a lot of folks weren’t. But I’ve just read this blurb in Time: “A volcano in Icelend nicknamed the Gateway to Hell [Icelandic name: Hekla] is poised to erupt ‘at any moment,’ according to a University of Iceland vulcanologist.”

Hekla volcano in 2006 (photo from Wikipedia, used under a Creative Commons license).

Hekla volcano in 2006 (photo from Wikipedia, used under a Creative Commons license).

So you are warned. The Telegraph reports:

News that Hekla in south Iceland is “ready to go” will trouble British holidaymakers who recall the widespread travel disruption caused across Europe in 2010 by clouds of ash spewed into the air by another Icelandic monster, Eyjafjallajökull. More than 100,000 flights were cancelled over six days, stranding 10 million people and costing £1.15 billion in lost revenue.

“Hekla is a dangerous volcano,” said Professor Páll Einarsson at the University of Iceland. “We could be looking at a major disaster when the next eruption begins if we are not careful. … There are also 20–30 planes full of passengers flying right over the top of Hekla every day. This is a risky moment which we need to take seriously.”

There’s been no official warning from Iceland (or the airline industry), but Einarsson notes that Hekla generally erupts every ten years or so, but has been silent for sixteen years now. The Telegraph reports that he “also says that readings show the volcano is accumulating magma and the pressure inside is higher than it has been before previous eruptions.”

I’m not a worrywort, particularly, as you know, but keep it in mind if you’re planning a date-specific trip to Europe.

Those Long, Long Security Lines

Everybody in the travel industry’s talking about the long lines to get through airport security these days. It’s not really a new phenomenon, as far as I’m concerned—I flew across the Atlantic and back twice last year (June and September 2015), and it was a slog going and coming.

But apparently it’s gotten bad all over the United States … even for domestic flights. People are missing flights. Fingers are being pointed. Blame is being totted up.

This CNN article offers a concise list of reasons security lines are long:

  • There aren’t enough screeners
  • Passenger volume is up (15 percent from 2013)
  • People are filling up their carry-ons

That last one is a doozy. Since many of the carriers charge to check bags, lots of passengers load up on carry-on luggage … which all has to go through the security line. People with multiple pieces of carry-on—as many and as large as they think they can get away with—have long been a pet peeve of mine. It slows down boarding, it hogs more than their fair share in the overhead bins, and it slows down the security line.

So we can blame the TSA, we can blame Congress (which funds it), we can blame the airlines and travelers. But I also think travelers’ expectations are to blame.

Folks who travel a lot—business travelers, yes, but pleasure travelers too—get to the point of thinking they “know the drill.” I know Gerry and I did over those long twelve years of back-and-forth. It’s exactly 35.8 miles from our driveway to the loading/unloading zone at the Nashville International Airport, and I can tell you, based on what day of the week and what time of day it is, how long it’s going to take me to get there with pinpoint accuracy.

People who travel a lot also get to dread the airport, frankly. It’s noisy, it’s uncomfortable. So … they want to get it all timed and spend as little time in the airport before boarding as possible. They want to slide in at the last moment.

But you just can’t do that anymore. You can’t count on breezing through security at any time of the day or night, no matter how well you know the drill. You’ve simply got to set aside more time. Grin and bear it.

Or read this article from the New York Times: “How to Zip Through Airport Security,” which includes:

  • Sign up for TSA Precheck
  • Pick the less busy security area
  • By-pass the fumblers crowded around the beginning of the line
  • Depart in the middle of the day, rather than early or late
  • Pay the airlines for premium boarding procedures

The issue is not going to resolve itself fast, y’all. There is no “good” solution. Do what you can to not be a part of the problem, put on a happy face, and allow plenty of time.

Bon voyage!

Now I Am in the Garden …

Now I am in the garden at the back, a very preserve of butterflies, as I remember it, with a high fence and a gate and paddock; where the fruit clusters on the trees, riper and richer than fruits have ever been since, in any other garden, and where my mother gathers some in a basket, while I stand by, bolting furtive gooseberries, and trying to look unmoved.

—Charles Dickens, in David Copperfield (pub. 1849)


Fledgling Failsafe

The sound of birds screaming—yes, screaming—in the backyard means only one thing: There is a baby on the ground!

It is early morning and I am using the screen door for that hour or two we can enjoy fresh air before the heat takes over. I’ve lived in this house long enough to be familiar with the backyard sounds. There’s always lots of ambient bird noise (we have lots of bushes and trees), and I can tell the difference between normal and screaming. Something is up.

I immediately hustle out there and bring Laddie the cat—who does not have a nestling in his mouth, but was simply strolling through the yard doing his unintentional impression of a Large Black Monster—inside.

… an unintentional impression of a Big Black Monster: Laddie.

… an unintentional impression of a Large Black Monster: Laddie.

When Gerry and Suzy the dog get back from their walk, I caution them to keep an eye out and naturally Suzy finds the baby pretty quickly. “Suzy!” we shout, and run over.

The baby is on its back, wings spread, eyes closed, neck bent. Oh no. Such a beautiful little thing, gone. A precious life. I bend over to scoop it up; a last gentle touch is all I can give it.

And I would have, except just as I touch its little head, it opens one eye, squawks, leaps to its feet, and takes off running across the yard. Who knew baby robins had a play-dead failsafe instinct?

We bring Suzy inside, keep the cats in all day. The backyard is, at the moment, safe for baby birds. All is calm.

Baby robin on our backyard bird table with Mrs. R.

Baby robin on our backyard bird table with Mrs. R.


Traveling Solo (An Introduction to a Wonderful Blog)

I seriously love this piece. It’s called “Why I Travel Alone.” The writing is lovely.

Venice. It’s early on a gray December morning. I’m standing alone on a long pier that stretches out into the lagoon. It’s pouring rain and under my umbrella, I’ve rolled my suitcase as close to me as possible on the narrow floating walkway.

Yesterday I booked the St. Marco waterbus to the airport with a departure early enough to catch my morning flight back to New York with time to spare. It’s now 7:30 a.m. What I didn’t know is that Venice is a town where unless you are in produce or fish, you’re not out before 9. The ticket booths are shuttered, no other travelers are in sight and the only signs I can read point me… here. I’m standing in the middle of the whitecapped sea, in the rain, rocking on the end of a long, lonely pier, not really certain if my precarious spot is the right precarious spot to get to the airport.

Why did I take this trip alone? Why didn’t I spend for the private water taxi? Why did I wear these shoes?

It goes on, and I urge you to spend some time at this blog, called Solo-Travel. It’s fantastic.

I have several single girlfriends. Some of them organize trips with friends or family. Some don’t. One of them said to me just last week, “If I wait for someone to go with, I’ll never go.” This was in the context of her having just returned from a trip to Phoenix, a place she’d never been and wanted to see. And so she did. Alone.

When I was single myself (a single mom), I didn’t have the funds to travel much. But I have had the luxury, during various trips to Ireland in the last decade, of finding myself alone in the car with an afternoon to spend on my own while Gerry hunkered down somewhere with a soccer game on the television.* I hadn’t thought much about it until I discovered Solo-Travel, but it is different. Empowering. Fulfilling. Mind and heart expanding.

I met the author of Solo-Travel through my work … but we bonded over our mutual love of exploring countries not our own. And we are absolutely on the same wavelength about travel, which she says is “soul-shifting, and sometimes mystical.” It’s a similar description to what I call “finding the magic.” We all need a little magic in our lives, IMHO.

I think you’ll find this blog special, so here’s your introduction. Enjoy!

* (Of course, the getting there and back was always done solo.)