Posted by: Peter Scott | April 17, 2010

Home thoughts on aviation

Today my normally silver car has a more golden-bronzy tinge, or a thin film of volcanic dust. Part of Iceland is now travelling around the streets of Milton Keynes attached to my car, a sort of grimy hitch-hiker.
I should not really know about the dust on my car as I should not be in England, I should currently be mid-Atlantic on my way to speak at a conference in Las Vegas. But that is not to be. Optimistically, I followed the hour-by-hour announcements from the airline and the NATS air traffic service right up to the time I was texted with my flight cancellation. I have now cancelled the flight booking (there was no point rebooking to arrive after the conference finished) cancelled the hotels, briefed a colleague in the hope that he could give my talk. I have even been to the supermarket to buy food (what is the point of food in the fridge if you are away?)
There is no point ranting about a volcanic eruption blocking air travel to or from north-western Europe, these things can happen (obviously). I am one of the fortunate people, I am still at home, my journey, although long anticipated, is not critical in course of world history. Yes, I was invited to speak at a conference in the USA; yes, I would be representing and publicising my company; yes, delegates have told me that they would like to meet with me and talk; but my not being there will not stop the conference. And, as I said an American colleague at the conference may be able to give my talk for me.
I am a lucky one; I have friends and colleagues in the USA trying to return to Europe, friends in Denmark (amongst other places) trying to cross the Atlantic to get home, and friends dotted around northern Europe just trying to make it home to the UK. One friend is in Northern Italy singing with a choir, tomorrow she should fly home to be with her children and ready to return to the school she teaches at on Monday – but that won’t happen, and I can think of no quick way for her to return from the wrong side of the Alps.
Some might think that having no flights is as if aviation had not been invented and we can proceed with a more sustainable, low carbon-footprint, way of life. True, it is technically feasible for me to do my job by the wonders of telephony and the internet, I could video-conference my presentations, I even could go to the pub and phone my colleagues so that I can take part in social interaction outside of the office over a few beers. But powered flight has been invented and the suddenly switching it off for several days is not the same thing; people have not planned there lives in anticipation of this and the event causes big problems to those who just need to get home, those that would not be where they are if a plane had not taken them there.

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