VOLCANIC ERUPTION: UK, OTHERS BECOME NO-FLY ZONE
Almost all Europe-bound flights out of Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Port Harcourt airports were cancelled on Thursday, as volcanic ash blocked skies across Europe posing a danger to aviation.
A volcanic eruption in Iceland in the early hours of Thursday had spewed thick columns of ash particles that could clog plane engines and the United Kingdom and Ireland. France and some Nordic countries closed their airspaces subsequently.
Several flights coming into the UK from United States and other parts of the world were diverted to Amsterdam and Brussels and authorities closed the airports due to congestion.
In Nigeria, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Arik Air, Air France and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines cancelled all outbound flights.
The airlines told our correspondent that the flights could not depart for 'safety reasons'.
As a result, thousands of passengers were stranded across the four international airports.
When our correspondent visited the Murtala Muhammed International Airport on Thursday evening, over 1,000 passengers were seen hanging around the terminal building, as many became stranded, especially those who had come from other parts of the country.
Flights that were cancelled include Arik's Lagos-London; Air France's Lagos-Paris, KLM's Lagos-Amsterdam, Virgin Atlantic's Lagos-London and British Airways' Lagos-London.
Some of the passengers were seen at the Consumer Protection office of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, complaining that the airlines had refused to put them in hotels.
Some of the passengers queried why the airlines had allowed them to check in online without informing them about the impending cancellations.
However, our correspondent gathered that BA later put over 300 London-bound passengers in a hotel. Virgin Atlantic also did the same. As at 6pm on Thursday, KLM was yet to conclude plans on how to put passengers who had checked in into a hotel.
Some passengers told our correspondent that Arik Air had failed to put them in a hotel, and that they were stranded because they had come from outside Lagos. But the Media Officer of the airline, Mr. Adebanji Ola, said all passengers with proof that they lived outside Lagos were accommodated in hotels at the airline's expense.
Global travel regulations demand that in cases of flight cancellations, airlines are duty-bound to put passengers who they had checked in into hotels.
But airline officials in Nigeria, including Airfrance-KLM, Virgin Atlantic and Arik, claimed they had informed the passengers of the cancellations.
Meanwhile, airport officials at Abuja airport confirmed that British Airways, KLM and Arik's flights to London and Amsterdam had been cancelled due to the bad weather. Most of the passengers were later transferred to hotels while few who reside in Abuja left for their homes according to the officials. KLM flights out of Kano and Air France flights out of PH were also cancelled.
A spokesperson of Virgin Atlantic in Nigeria said the cancellation was due to closure of the UK airspace by the National Air Traffic Services.
However, few European flights arrived although they could not return to Europe. These are Air France and British Airways. Also few European airlines departed although they warned that passengers going to onward destinations could have their flights cancelled. For Example, Lufthansa said it would fly to Frankfurt because the German airspace was not affected said that its flight London and other parts of Europe had been cancelled while those of North America might be delayed.
AF and KLM said all its flight from Amsterdam and Paris to UK, Netherlands, and Northern Europe had been cancelled just as Lagos-Paris and Lagos-Amsterdam had been cancelled.
All the airlines are advising passengers to check their website for up dates. But unconfirmed sources at the airport said the situation might last till Monday.
A statement by Lufthansa's spokesman in Nigeria Mr. Hekeem Jimoh, read, 'A huge cloud of ash from an Icelandic volcano has led to the closure of all airports in the UK and Ireland. Airports in Northern Scandinavia have also been shut down and the airspace closed.