How Ashes Changed my Vacation – Who Knew They Could!

Well, my trip to Europe was to be a few days in Bulgaria attending a wedding and then a quick jump to Copenhagen.  Bulgaria happened.  Denmark did not.  Ashes were to blame.

I arrived in Europe at Frankfurt where I was meeting up with my cousin and then traveling together to Sofia, Bulgaria.  Right before we boarded our flight that Thursday, the flight next to us which was going to Berlin got cancelled due to volcanic ash.  I remember thinking “volcanic ash?  that’s weird.”  A friend emailed me that I seem to escape chaotic situations (like the Chile earthquake by a day or so) since I made it to my destination before the airspace closures – I knew he had just jinxed me unknowingly!

As the weekend progressed, we kept hearing the news about the volcanic ash and the airspaces closing.  We started beginning to think that our Tuesday departure was not going to happen.  We enjoyed the wedding events on the weekend and we even took a daytrip on Monday (more on those things in a separate post).  But when we finally got to the apartment on Monday, we checked with the airlines and our worst fears got confirmed and our flights were cancelled.  Our flights got re-scheduled for Thursday.  In my case, my new flights were still taking me to Copenhagen via Munich.  However, the news kept talking about how Denmark was right in the path of the volcanic ash even after other countries were expected to re-open their airspaces.  So, I started working on a new plan to fly out on Thursday but via a more southerly connection spot to Atlanta.  I knew there were direct flights from Sofia to Barcelona, Madrid, Athens, Istanbul, and Rome.  I could book a one way ticket to one of those cities and then get Delta to switch my return flight accordingly.  However, another option was to keep my flight to Copenhagen via Munich but stop in Munich since from there I could also catch a Delta flight or was close enough to other cities (Prague, Zurich, Vienna) if Delta could not get me out from Munich soon enough.  I was calling Delta several times a day and I kept getting quoted the 28th or 29th as the earliest they could squeeze me into some flight.  That was not good enough as it was a week away.  I managed to get the 25th from Madrid but I did not snatch it and when I called 20 minutes later, it was gone…

The biggest challenge for someone in my situation (which was not the worst by far compared to what others went through) was trying to decide which way to go with things.  If I did not go to Copenhagen or at least to Munich with my itinerary, I would lose the unused portion of my Lufthansa ticket.  If I didn’t make it to Copenhagen, my hotel booking would not be refundable (I had gotten it with miles not actually paying but it was nevertheless non-refundable).  However, I wasn’t willing to get into Denmark (if I could even fly in) only to risk its airspace getting shutdown on further eruptions’ ashes…  I also needed to be sure my cousin had a good plan to since she didn’t like the idea of staying behind in Sofia on her own or of staying in an unknown European city by herself (I, on the other hand, was not too troubled should I find myself in that situation).  This all complicated deciding what I should go for…

Finally, I seemed to score.  Delta could get me on a flight to Atlanta from Rome today (Thursday the 22nd).  I knew I could get a $150 ticket from Sofia to Rome with a 2 hr connection in Rome so I went for it.

Tonight, I write from Atlanta, having “gotten out” of Europe with not many scars, outside of half a ticket lost with Lufthansa and miles lost on the Copenhagen hotel (I am still going to try get that refunded… no harm, no foul!).  My flight from Rome had a number of empty seats making me wonder how bad was it really?

In the end, my vacation got cut short one day but, on the upside, I ended up with two more days in Bulgaria.  Since I may not make it back there any time soon, I am glad I did get those couple of days.

P.S. – On my last day in Bulgaria, I kept hearing on the news how IATA was accusing European governments of being too serious with the airspace closures.  I was aghast that the airline industry feels that making money is more important than our safety.  Since the impact of the ashes was not well understood, I for one was certainly glad the governments were cautious on this since, APPARENTLY, we could not rely on the airlines to do the safe thing.

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