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Volcanic ash hampering Whistlerites’ travel plans

Cancelled flights in Europe mean some residents are grounded instead of on holidays

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Europe's travel chaos is hitting home, with many Whistler residents having difficulty taking off on holidays.

Jenny Reversz, owner of Personal Travel Management, said Tuesday she had already spent two hours on the phone that morning just trying to get through to operators and airlines for people who were supposed to fly out that night.

About 30 per cent of Reversz's clients have been affected by Iceland's volcanic ash, with most those being residents who were planning to take advantage of Whistler's slow season to go away on holiday.

"If this doesn't stop, then it is going to get worse," said Reversz.

"I have people looking to go at the end of May and June, and already pricing is starting to be affected by that, because the availability is not there. As people's trips are pushing back, the prices are increasing as well."

Air travel to Europe was thrown into crisis mode last week, when a volcano erupted on Iceland and ejected an ash cloud across Europe.

Hundred of thousands of travellers have been stranded at airports across the world, following a five-day ban on aviation traffic.

By Tuesday, European airports began reopening their airspace, although many flights to and from London Heathrow, Frankfurt, and Munich remained cancelled, including British Airways' daily flight between England and Vancouver.

British Airways also announced on its website Tuesday that it was reviewing its schedule to see if it could operate some long haul flights departing from Heathrow and Gatwick Airports by Wednesday, April 21.

The airline's spokespeople cautioned that it is "bound to take some considerable time before we can restore our full flight program."

"We continue to work around the clock to see how many flights we can operate in the days ahead to help as many customers as possible reach their final destination," said the spokespeople.

Meanwhile, director of communications for Tourism Whistler, Casey Vanden Heuvel, stressed how lucky Whistler is that this crisis happened after Easter.

"We are quite fortunate that it happened just after the Easter period, when there is a high volume UK traffic period," said Vanden Heuvel.

"Although it has a definite impact in travel around the world, we happen to be at a slower time period than we experience regularly in terms of European travel to Whistler, so it is having minimal effect right now."

Vanden Heuvel said Tourism Whistler is also working with visitors from Europe who are currently in Whistler to get them back home.

"One positive piece is that agents at Whistler.com aren't experiencing any higher volumes of calls in regards to problems with those that have booked through Whistler.com," said Vanden Heuvel.

While on Tuesday it remained unclear how long the volcanic ash would continue to impede air travel in Europe, Vanden Heuvel said it is unlikely the crisis will dig into Whistler's tourism sector.

"Typically our European traffic into Whistler doesn't ramp up until June, so unless reports coming out of the ash issue indicate it will linger on to that time period, we really don't expect a significant negative impact," he said.

"We won't be concerned unless it lingers into the summer months."

Ben Thomas, from VIP Mountain Holidays, whose company does not sell flights to customers, also said he hasn't been affected at all by the volcanic activity.

"All our British guests have already left, and most of our long haul clients have already gone," said Thomas. "If this happened mid-season there would be major effects, but because it is happening when the long haul market isn't here, we haven't seen any effects."

 

Ash impacts WSSF

Travel delays resulting from the Volcanic eruption in Iceland have had minor impacts on the Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival. Two skiers registered to compete in the World Skiing Invitation superpipe, Justin Dorey and Virginie Faivre, were in Sweden for a contest and were unable to get to Canada for the competition. Two other skiers, Colby West and Anais Caradeaux, did manage to find flights.

Yves Garneau, a finalist in the Pro Photographer Showdown, is based in Chamonix, France and at press time was still stuck in Geneva - although it looked promising that he would make it in time.

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