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Widespread cancellations to Europe

Passengers wait at Luton Airport in Luton, England, Thursday after the Civil Aviation Authority banned non-emergency flights in Britain due to the ash clouds. (By Matt Dunham/Associated Press)

[This post has been updated: (3:50 p.m.)

At least 100 U.S. flights had been canceled by early Thursday afternoon Eastern Daylight Time, according to David Castelveter, a spokesman for the Air Transportation Association, which represents most major U.S. carriers.

Most of the canceled U.S. flights were to the United Kingdom or from there, he said. Some airlines were also canceling flights scheduled for Friday, he said.

Airports in Britain, Ireland and Nordic countries were closed first. By late Thursday morning France had closed 23 airports, including Paris airports.

British Airways spokesman John Lampl said the airline had several flights out of the U.S. bound for Heathrow that were returned to their departure cities or forced to land elsewhere when London airports were closed.

"This will domino into every airline," Lampl said. "Everybody's in the same boat."

American Airlines canceled 21 flights that were scheduled to arrive at or depart from London after U.K. authorities closed the airspace, said airline spokesman Tim Smith. He said American was able to make six takeoffs and nine arrivals at Heathrow before the shutdown.

-- Associated Press

2 p.m. Update: Discount airline Ryanair will not operate any flights to and from Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Sweden and the United Kingdom before 1 p.m. local time Friday, the airline said in an e-mailed statement. The airline canceled more than 600 flights Thursday, it said.

-- Bloomberg News

12:30 p.m. Update: The main Paris airport, France's largest, and nearly two dozen airports around the country are being shut down Thursday due to volcanic ash from Iceland's spewing volcano, the Civil Aviation authority said.

Charles de Gaulle airport was to close by 5 p.m. (EST) at the latest, along with two other airports serving the capital. Eight smaller airports in the extreme northern part of the country were closed earlier.

12:20 p.m. Update: American Airlines (800-433-7300), British Airways (800-247-9297), Delta (800-221-1212), Lufthansa (800-645-3880), SAS (800-221-2350), United (800-864-8331) and U.S. Airways (800-428-4322) all announced that travelers would be able to rebook without penalty or obtain refunds, depending on the destination. Travelers were advised to call airlines for the latest information.

11:15 p.m. Update: SAS has canceled all flights to and from Norway and the United Kingdom.

United Airlines has issued a travel waiver policy for flights to or from London through Friday. The airline warns that some travelers may already have been rebooked, so call the airline for an update (800-241-6522).

Original post: Volcanic ash in Northern Europe is wreaking havoc on air travelers. The ash clouds shut down London's five major airports including Heathrow, a major trans-Atlantic hub that handles upwards of 1,200 flights and 180,000 passengers per day. Shutdowns and cancellations spread to France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Ireland, Sweden, Finland and Switzerland.

Dulles began reporting cancellations to London and the rest of Northern Europe by mid-morning. Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport had no delays reported through most of the morning because their only nonstop flight to Europe today wasn't scheduled until 9:05 p.m. in the evening, said Jonathan Dean, spokesman for BWI. Later in the morning, a British Airways flight scheduled to arrive at 7:35 p.m. at BWI from Heathrow was canceled, which in turn canceled the returning 9:05 p.m. flight from BWI to Heathrow, Dean said.

A flight from Dulles to Heathrow departing at 9:26 a.m. was canceled this morning, and a commenter reported a backlog of people trying to book another flight. The next scheduled flight from Dulles to Heathrow is at 6:03 p.m.

Airspace over Britain could reopen by 1 p.m. our time, but some officials were predicting the problem could linger for days. The problem is even greater for Washington-area travelers taking connecting flights.

Several flights heading to London from JFK were already canceled this morning, as were multiple flights from Newark to Edinburgh and Glasgow. Flights from Boston's Logan Airport to London were also canceled. (Like us, Philadelphia International Airport also seemed to be unaffected, showing no flights departing for Northern Europe today.)

But make sure to check with your airline before you head out to your flight. Here are the Web sites for our area's international airports:

-- Dulles International Airport | Here's a list of airlines that fly out of Dulles.
-- Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport | Here's a list of airlines that fly out of BWI.

Here are some airline phone numbers and sites that might be handy:
-- British Airways -- 800-247-9297
-- Air France -- 800-237-2747
-- American Airlines -- 800-433-7300
-- Virgin Atlantic -- 800-862-8621
-- United Airlines -- 800-241-6522

It's also wise to check the FAA's Web site, which is useful if you are connecting at another airport.

-- Staff and Associated Press reports

By Mark Berman  |  April 15, 2010; 3:50 PM ET
Categories:  Airports  | Tags: Airport delays, delays flying to europe, european flight delays, international flight delays, ireland volcanic ash delays, volcanic ash europe, volcanic ash over europe delays  
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Sorry but things have changed here.

The United Dulles-Heathrow flight this morning has in fact been cancelled - I know, because I was due to be on it. There's also already a heavy backlog on rebooking passengers to other flights.

Posted by: PMDIET | April 15, 2010 9:14 AM | Report abuse

With the long lines and lack of facilities for large numbers stuck at hubs, one would think that a plan would be in place for those that have landed, yet cannot continue on their connecting flight. I know that weather issues do not force an airline to be responsible for its passengers, but what about the elderly, the handicapped or the many unaccompanied minors? Would love to hear the plans that the DC-area airports have for this type of emergency.

Posted by: carolineC1 | April 15, 2010 4:17 PM | Report abuse

Read that "contract of carriage" that you get when you buy that ticket. That stipulates what the airline is required to give you. Typically, when due to an "act of God", what you get is nothing.

Hopefully, most airlines will cancel an itinerary outright, rather than fly someone to a hub where they cannot continue on their journey. So if one were flying from Los Angeles to Atlanta and then onwards to London then their itinerary would be canceled in Los Angeles so they could not board a flight to Atlanta being that they would be unable to continue on to Europe. Much better to force someone to stay at their origin or destination than stuck at an air hub.

As for the European hubs, no flights out but no flights in the only stuck people are the ones who just happened to be in the airport at the exact time the stoppage occurred, so its not like its a whole day's worth of people stuck in the airport.

Posted by: thetan | April 16, 2010 1:56 PM | Report abuse

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