Frustration as South African Airways cancels post-volcano flight

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    Frustrated passengers were braced for a sixth unplanned night in Johannesburg on Tuesday as South African Airways (SAA) cancelled what was to be its first flight to London since Wednesday.

    Passengers of flight SA 3236 voiced frustration, worry and anger at the week of chaos wrought by volcanic ash from last week’s eruption in Iceland, after the airline backed down from resuming flights. “It’s been five nights now and last night I slept on the floor and it looks like I’m sleeping on the floor again tonight,” said a London man who asked not to be named, saying he spent the previous night at the airport.

    “I’ve run out of money because I’ve spent 1,000 pounds (1,539 dollars, 1,141 euros) already on hotels,” he told AFP. SAA announced Tuesday morning that flights to and from London would resume, after a Lufthansa flight left for Frankfurt from South Africa Monday evening. But as a new ash cloud moved over British airspace Tuesday, SAA delayed and then cancelled the flights.

    “I’ve checked out of my hotel, and now the flight is cancelled,” complained a visibly angry woman from Winchester, England, who asked not to be named. “I tried calling the hotel again to make a booking, but they said it’s full. I don’t know where I’m going to sleep,” she told AFP. The airline has said it is paying for one night’s hotel stay for stranded passengers. But Michelle Fiasse, a Belgian stuck in Johannesburg with three children, said that wasn’t enough to keep the family from straining its budget.

    “SAA paid for the first night, but we had to pay for the other four days. It’s frustrating and expensive. If the plane doesn’t go tonight, I will have to call my friend in Johannesburg to accommodate my family,” Fiasse told AFP. Andy Horn, a passenger from Britain, said his travel insurance was paying for his hotel room, but that he worried about his son at home. “My 18-year-old boy (is) by himself and running out of money and food. We live by the countryside and he can’t drive, so that’s my worry,” Horn told AFP.

    SAA head of operations Tebogo Tsimane said it would have been dangerous to fly Tuesday, and that they were waiting for an update from the British authorities before informing passengers on the way forward. Airports Company South Africa estimates more than 20,000 passengers have had flights from South Africa to northern and central Europe cancelled because of the ash cloud. SAA also cancelled flights to and from Frankfurt and Munich on Tuesday.

    Johannesburg, April 20, 2010 (AFP)