“It’s like John Candy on acid,” a spokesman for Virgin Group Ltd. said, referring to “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” the 1987 film in which the late Mr. Candy and Steve Martin play stranded travelers trying to make it home for Thanksgiving.
While volcanic ash shut down air travel across Europe for nearly a week leaving millions stranded, some people went to extraordinary lengths to get wherever they wanted to go. From celebrities to school girls, here are 15 of the most impressive volcano-defying detours.
German Chancellor: San Francisco to North Dakota to Lisbon To Rome To Berlin
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany boarded her government’s official aircraft in San Francisco Thursday night, but when the crew heard about the ash, they landed in North Dakota. Then they flew to Lisbon. Saturday morning, they got back in the plane and flew to Rome. Her security team assembled a small fleet of bulletproof cars and drove up to Bozen in the mountains of Northern Italy. Sunday morning a bus took her to the German border, and from there they drove 850 kilometers to Berlin. “We had a very pleasant time,” the chancellor told reporters. “And now we will all be very happy to return home, to Berlin.”
John Cleese’s 943-mile taxi ride
In Oslo, Norway for a TV appearance Monty Python alum John Cleese “decided the only plausible way for him to get to Belgium – and then on to London – was to take a taxi.” He pre-paid a fare of £3,300 ($5,085.74) for the trip, which should take more than 15 hours. Three Norwegian cabbies are splitting the driving. Cleese: “We checked every option, but there were no boats and no train tickets available. That’s when my fabulous assistant determined the easiest thing would be to take a taxi. It will be interesting. I’m not in a hurry.”
Whitney Houston takes the car ferry
To perform in Dublin as part of her Nothing But Love world tour, Whitney Houston took to the Irish Sea on a less-than-glamorous car ferry. The ferry trip takes three hours 15 minutes to arrive into Dublin Port.
Elite soccer teams busing it
Not a single soccer match has been postponed because of the ash, but some millionaire players have had to travel like minor leaguers.
- Liverpool has to take a bus and a train from England through France and into Spain (more than 2,000 miles round trip)
- Fulham will travel more than 1,000 miles round trip on the ground to get from England to Hamburg, Germany
- Barcelona, will need a two-day road trip to play Inter Milan on Tuesday
- France’s Lyon will also travel by bus to play Bayern Munich in Germany.
Blockade Runner: Malta to Rome to Brussels to London
After Scott English had flown from Malta to Rome and taken slow trains to Brussels, he thought he was almost home. But with Eurostar trains sold out, he was dealing with taxi drivers asking for over $1000 to take him to Calais. Luckily, he met a stranger who was chartering a bus and asking passengers just to cover his costs, so English gladly chipped in $54. Then they had to deal with the impromptu blockade of angry Brussels cabbies. After the police were called, English and around 30 others were on the road home.
Catholic school girls stuck in Iceland
How’s this for a headline: “Volcanic ash from Iceland forces Paris-bound Holyoke Catholic High School students to take a detour — to Iceland.” So, 11 girls, one boy, and two chaperones left Boston’s Logan International Airport Thursday for a tour of France. The airline told the group that the volcano was already disrupting air traffic, but they were assured that they would get a connecting flight from Iceland to Paris with in a few hours. They were stuck in Iceland for 84 hours before taking the first plane they could get back to Boston. Instead of the Louvre, they visited the volcano that prevented them from visiting the Louvre. The group says they may reschedule the trip — if their travel insurance pays off. Even if it doesn’t, you’d think some marketing/social media genius could drum up enough donations to finally get them to France.
One-way car rental from Amsterdam to Madrid
From the AP:
Doug Hahn, 36, from Portland, Oregon, was settling into his seat Thursday on a New York-bound plane in Amsterdam when the flight was canceled. He and three other stranded travelers rented a car and drove to Madrid — a 16-hour road journey. The price? Six hundred euros ($808), split three ways — a “good deal” for Hahn, who said the car company initially wanted 1,600 euros ($2,155) for the one-way rental. He managed to get a ticket for a Miami flight later in the day.
TV historian’s inflatable boats
BBC host Dan Snow planned to spend all day on Sunday ferrying people across the English Channel in six-foot inflatable boats. He was shut down by French bureaucrats who only let him bring 25 people back to England with him.
Tacoma businessman: London to Glasgow to Madrid to Newark to Seattle-Tacoma
Kelly Haughton realized he was stuck in London on Friday, so he took the train to Glasgow on Saturday while a few flights were still leaving from Glasgow. While he was still on the train, all flights from Glasgow were canceled. So he and a friend rented a car from the Glasgow airport and drove 1400 miles in two days to get to the airport in Madrid. There they found someone willing to drive their rental car back to Britain, and Haughton got on standby to a flight to Newark that connected to Seattle-Tacoma.
Hitchhiking on to a ferry: Hamburg to Cologne to Brussels to Gent to Calais to Manchester
After two flights were canceled, Peter Fields took the train from Hamburg by way of Cologne to Eurostar’s hub in Brussels. Giving up on getting a direct train to the UK from there, he took another train to Gent then haggled a taxi driver down to $235 for a 150 kilometer trip to Calais. With ferry tickets hard to come by, he wrote “SPACE? £50” on a sheet of paper, and three minutes later he was in a car boarding a ferry home.
Pennsylvania college students: Iceland to Norway to Copenhagen to Amsterdam to England
Twelve Dickinson College students who are studying abroad in England were in Iceland for what was supposed to be a five-day trip studying hydroelectricity. They were nowhere near the volcano, but had to take a flight to Norway and then a 16-hour bus ride to Copenhagen, where they stayed in a hostel. Next they’ll take a bus to Amsterdam, where they have reservations to return to England by ferry.
Australian doctor: Paris to Frankfurt to Athens to Dubai to Sydney
Dr. Gabrielle Howard and her 13-year-old daughter already had problems before the volcano. Their March 31 flight from Sydney to Paris was delayed and they had to stay overnight in a hotel before flying to France. Then the airline lost their bags and French train workers went on strike. Then the volcanic ash arrived in time for their flight back. They rented a car and drove to Frankfurt, but by the time they arrived, Frankfurt’s airport was also shut down. So they drove another 1600 kilometers to southern Italy to take a ferry to Greece. In Athens they flew on to Dubai, and from there back to Sydney.
Spain to France to the UK: by train, cab and ferry
Martin Richter covered 1,400 miles in 60 hours. First he took a train from Madrid to northern Spain. The next morning, another train and cab over the French border. Then to Bordeaux by a packed fast train, with people sitting on the floor. Next, an overnight train to Paris, then over to Calais and a ferry across the English Channel to home.
Family’s cab ride: French Alps to Birmingham
While John Cleese had three drivers, Mike Gore had just one. Gore’s party of eight — four other adults and three young children — were already in a cab to the Geneva airport when they found out their flight was canceled. So they talked their cabbie Matt into taking them all the way home. What was supposed to be a four-hour fare to the airport turned into a three-day round trip costing nearly $3,000.
English family: Israel to Madrid to Calais to the UK
Two pairs of cousins were vacationing in Israel when the volcano erupted, and the kids needed to turn in their homework. So they flew from Israel to Madrid on Sunday. From Madrid they rented a car and drove through the night for 1,012 miles to make it to Calais in time for a 9:45 a.m. ferry. And like most of their impromptu road tripping brethren, they made the long drive without the modern convenience of GPS.
How did you get home from Europe during Volcanogate? Leave your harrowing tales in the comments!