ANZAC pilgrimages to Gallipoli this week are under threat as Australian travellers are caught up in the Iceland volcanic ash travel crisis.
The travel plans of thousands of Australians have been dashed by the no-fly zone imposed across much of Britain and Europe, with the grounding all flights in and out of the UK, in the wake of the volcanic ash cloud.
The suspension of all but emergency flights to and from Heathrow has been extended till 7pm today (Monday) and may persist following the latest eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland and the subsequent cloud of ash and dust which has spread across much of Europe.
At least 60,000 passengers travelling between Australian and Europe have so far had their flights cancelled due to the continuing threat from the volcanic ash.
On Sunday, Qantas cancelled all of its Europe bound flights until at least Tuesday.
With the ash cloud from an Icelandic volcano still spreading, passengers are being told to expect delays of up to two weeks or even more.
This will mean many Australians will be unable to reach Gallipoli in Turkey in time for the ANZAC Day dawn service this Sunday.
“We are very much hoping that Istanbul Airport will remain open,” Singapore Airlines’ spokeswoman Susan Bredow told News Corporation. “It’s touch and go at the moment. The ash cloud is moving down that way. It’s not good.”
On their website, Topdeck, one of the major operators of ANZAC Day tours, advise that all their tours are going ahead as planned and suggest that travellers look into alternative arrangements to meet their tours in Turkey. They will be regularly monitoring developments.
Debbie Eidsforth, 36, who had been visiting family in Preston Lancashire was trying to head home to Adelaide via Hong Kong, but instead was stranded at Heathrow airport on Friday.
“I just stayed here, because my friend in Preston called around hotels for me but they were all full. I just slept here on the seats, and there were quite a few other people dotted around,” she told the BBC.
They should really have brought blankets and coffee around for us. At the end of the day, this is nobody’s fault but it’s very frustrating when there’s no communication.”
Student Hannah Miller, 21, from Sheffield was meant to be flying to Brisbane to see friends but was stranded on Friday.
“We came down this morning as we’d booked in a hotel overnight. But now we’re here, and we’ve got nowhere else to go. Last night was stressful, but how we’ve just had to wake up and get on with it,” she said.
Airports are expected to re-open again sometime this week, but it is not certain and problems are set to persist long after the ash has settled.
Meanwhile the activity of the Icelandic volcano is reported to be intensifying.
The Met Office warned that winds were still blowing the clouds south-east over much of Europe.
Some experts said there could be disruption for six months as a result of contaminated air drifting over Northern Europe.
Jet plans are at risk of volcanic ash causing their engines to seize and fail.
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Fire in Iceland: taking the chance to see the spectacle of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano up close.
Video: footage of the erupting Eyjafjallajokull volcano