As Volcano Ash Grounds Airlines, Boats and Trains Fill Up Fast

Iceland Volcano AshFollowing the eruption of a volcano under Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull glacier, European air travel has been paralyzed. But while there are dark clouds on the horizon for air travel, Iceland's volcano has been a boon for other companies.

Apple (AAPL), for example, got a surprise endorsement from Norway's Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg: A spokesman for the PM told reporters that Stoltenberg used his new iPad to govern remotely while he was stuck in New York City. At press time, the PM was in Basel, Switzerland, continuing his trek toward Oslo, which means that Norway may still be getting its governance via Mr. Jobs' latest gadget.

While Stoltenberg's iPad angle is interesting, the most fascinating aspect of his story may be the circuitous route that he had to take to get home. After leaving New York, he caught a nighttime flight to Madrid, which is outside of the ash plume, then traveled to Switzerland by train. To get all the way home, he may even have to book passage on one of the many ferry lines that operate throughout Northern Europe.

Sold-Out Ferries

In fact, Europe's trains and ferries seem to be the biggest winners in the current crisis: Most have been able to operate with little or no disruption. Train lines are overbooked because they handle land travel throughout the continent, while ferry lines have taken over overseas links. Tallink, an Estonian company that operates ferries throughout the Baltic Sea, has been deluged with calls from stranded travelers. Many of its cruises are sold out through Saturday, and the reservations desk currently has delays of 20 minutes or more.

Britain's NorthLink ferry service, which offers service from Scotland's Shetland Isles to ports in mainland England, has been booked solid since the crisis began. The company has added extra sailings to pick up the slack left by grounded airlines.

While traveling within Britain is tough, getting to the continent is even harder: P&O ferries has announced that service on its most popular route, from Dover, England to Calais, France, is booked solid, and many of its other lines have been swamped by last-minute travelers.

Volcano-Peeping Cruises

Things have been a little drearier for some of Europe's cruise lines. Many rely on airlines for combined air-and-sea-trip packages, and grounded flights have left them in the lurch. But for cruse lines that aren't at the mercy of air travel, the future looks bright. In fact, interest is already growing in travel packages to Iceland, and many cruise lines are offering tours to the islands most seismically active areas, including the Eyjafjallajokull glacier. And, with volcanic dust in the atmosphere creating breathtaking sunsets, it seems like a lot of travelers will be sharing romantic moments on deck.

According to rumors, some travelers have even resorted to freight travel. This wouldn't really be all that surprising: Many freighters offer low-cost, no-frills travel options, and with some experts predicting that it will take weeks for European air travel to get back on schedule, freighter cruises across the Atlantic are starting to seem like a viable choice for many stranded airline travelers.
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