We left to see The Lion King last night in a cloud of despondancy. The new ash plume was heading southeast, looking to blanket the entire United Kingdom for another five or six days. Little improvement was expected. I blamed watching BBC News through the doorway of the Civil Aviation Authority’s office on Kingsway, the first time in my life I have ever been thankful for the presence of “the crawl” on the bottom of the screen. Walking home along the Strand, I took a picture of a bar called “Stranded in London,” perfectly summing up my feelings. When I tell this story in the future, I don’t expect many to be sympathetic — “oh, how wonderful for you to be stuck in a city as lovely as London” and so forth — and I don’t expect that I’ll ever be able to fully explain how awful it feels to be trapped on the other side of the planet with no way to get home. I suspect that it will be one of those things you have to experience first hand to fully understand. And do I ever understand it now.
So it was with some trepidation that we turned on Sky News in our Notting Hill apartment upon returning, expecting to hear more bad news — flights canceled, airspace restrictions continue, blah blah blah. I mentally prepared myself to start making preparations to decamp for Paris or Frankfurt or Munich or Madrid. Imagine my complete surprise at the word: flights from London airports expected to resume tonight, normal operations planned from Heathrow and Gatwick by British Airways for tomorrow, check airlines for further details. The netbook was spinning up before I finished reading the crawl on the TV. And there it was, in glorious green on aircanada.com: “AC855 LHR to YVR. Scheduled. On time.”
Fast forward nine hours. We’re here in the London Lounge, killing the two hours before the gate opens and boarding begins. ACA855 is still showing ready to operate, scheduled to depart on time at 1055L this morning. FlightAware does not have routing information right now, which is a bit strange, but hardly unusual for non-North American departures. There is a mood of giddy optimism in the lounge this morning, and Heathrow was not the chaos I expected — likely the results of careful access controls on the terminal buildings, as well as discretion on the part of travelers. The departure information boards show a lot of canceled flights, but a lot of operating ones, too; Air Canada seems intent on operating this flight today, and I dearly hope they do.
Wait, I lied: while I was typing the above paragraph, FlightAware suddenly had routing information loaded into it.
BUZAD T420 WELIN UT420 TNT UN57 POL UN601 MARGO UN590 NINEX UP59 BALIX 6400N 02000W 6700N 03000W 6900N 04000W 7000N 05000W ADSAM 6900N 08000W 6730N 09000W 6530N 10000W YSM J528 YWL T201 ELIDI WHSLR2
I don’t have mapping handy right now so I can’t tell for sure, but that looks an awfully lot further north than these flights usually go. Comparison with previous flights shows a maximum latitude of 6800N; we’re apparently going to 70N. Ok, not an awful lot further — but further north just the same. (I’ll map this out tomorrow night when I get home.)
Allah be praised: it looks like we’re really going home. I don’t expect sympathy, or even understanding — just relief. I might kiss the ground in international arrivals in Vancouver.