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Aviation crisis hits Saudi students, teachers

Many passengers have expressed concern whether they will be able to make it to work, school and university on time because of the volcanic ash which has paralyzed airports across Europe.

April 18, 2010 12:06 by

Several thousand passengers wanting to travel from or to Saudi Arabia were unable to fly for a third day due to canceled flights as a plume of volcanic ash continued its drift across Europe from Iceland.

Many passengers have expressed concern whether they will be able to make it to work, school and university on time because of the ash which has paralyzed airports across Europe.

International British schools in the Kingdom are scheduled to resume school after the spring break. However, many of their teachers have been unable to return due to the flight delays.

The British International School of Jeddah said that they are missing 14 staff members who were scheduled to return a day or two before classes, but are stuck in the UK and other European countries. Jeddah Prep and Grammar School (JPGS) is also waiting for 10 teachers to come back to school, said a source.

The Air France office in Jeddah said that all of the airline’s flights operating from Jeddah and Riyadh have been delayed. The French Civil Aviation Authorities have also ordered the closure of the Paris-Charles de Gaulle and Paris-Orly airports.

Robert Lickley, BMI’s country manager, said on Saturday that all of the airline’s flights from the Kingdom had been canceled. “We are getting all available updates from NATS. We are in the process of phoning all the passengers who left contact details just to inform them and will contact them on Sunday to let them know what is happening.” Lickley said that BMI was looking at the backlog of passengers and attempting to clear the flights over the next week. “Passengers will be carried according to the load on the day,” he said. Some passengers would drop out as business conferences and appointments either passed or were rescheduled leaving gaps in seats on a daily basis.

“Wherever the flights are booked and ticketed, the passengers are safe,” he said. “Wherever we have seats, we will try to get people on, but there is no guarantee when that will be.”

Lickley confirmed that a BMI aircraft was in Saudi Arabia and would leave as soon as the first flight to the UK was cleared. He was at pains to reassure passengers about booking arrangements and said that travel agents were under standing instructions from BMI about cancellations of flights. Quoting the book, he said: “If your customer has been affected by a canceled flight, a full refund will be given. Alternatively you may rebook your customer within two weeks to travel within four weeks subject to availability.”

Saudi students who are studying in the UK and had returned to the Kingdom for the Easter break are scheduled to resume their studies on April 19. Many of them are worried at how possible further delays will affect their studies.

Noura Al-Saad, a 22-year-old who is studying in the UK, was supposed to return on April 16 but was stuck for three hours inside an airplane until her airline announced the delay. “I have an exam on Monday and wanted to study two days before my test,” she said. “Now, I’m worried about missing the exam. I hope my university understands the situation and reschedules it in case I miss it,” she added.

Nawaf Ali, a 20-year-old university student in London, said he is happy his flight has been delayed as it gives him more time to spend with his family in Jeddah.

“I’m actually glad that my flight has been delayed. I don’t know when I will return to London even though my classes begin on Monday. I hope my instructors don’t count me absent or else I risk losing credits,” he said.

Mohammed A., who asked his last name is not published, attends a university in Paris. His flight was canceled while at the airport. “I thought that the ashes would be gone by night but I’m unfortunately still stuck here,” he said, adding that there will be more chaos when flights resume.

- Arab News

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