Sitting in Africa’s largest airport, JNB, waiting to board a flight to the USA (LAX) thankfully via the Middle East (DXB), there is a strange sense in the air. A feeling not usually felt by air travellers embarking on a journey. A feeling magnified by the television in the lounge providing news updates from the UK on the latest from European airspace: “thank Heavens my flight is leaving!”

Why such inner relief? Why feeling so thankful for being able to do what has become an expectation – book, buy, board, fly? Because across the globe, since the third eruption of a volcano named Eyjafjallajokull far far north in Iceland, planes and passengers from America to Australia have been grounded. Mother Nature has spoken and sent us back to our rooms.

As a result, since April 14th, dismay has spread across airports and airlines as wide as plumes of volcanic ash. While NASA imagery showed the extent of the grey area, for aviation experts across the world there was no grey area – there was simply no way flights could continue into and out of the region.

The call was made. The engines were switched off. The departure boards translated ‘Cancelled’ into as many languages were required to alert passengers across the waiting world. Anywhere and everywhere. And the watching world taken through a 101 on the impact of ash on aircraft windscreens and engines.

As has become a pattern since the beginning of the decade, once again we are experiencing an event beyond fiction and imagination. Another event which has had us stuck in thought wondering, with furrowed brows, “but how could that happen?” Once again we have been shown that acts of God will always, always trump acts of technology, innovation and bravado.

And once again we have been reminded of just how much we have come to take for granted.

Global air travel, getting from A to B when and how one wishes, has become an expectation. Our awe has shifted from the power of flight to the power of in-flight entertainment. Our ability to come and go as we please / need absolutely has enhanced the reach, productivity and joy of our lives. To be able to board a flight, fall asleep, and wake in another culture, time zone and state of mind is a gift. Even for those who spend more time up at 35k than in their local gym, it is a gift. Often a favourite space. Air travel has become a true enhancement to quality life.

And so, to be grounded is to be stunted, practically and emotionally. Not to mention financially.

At present losses to Airlines are estimated – on a daily basis – to be:

  • 66% of European Flights
  • 180 Transatlantic flights
  • 28,000 flights
  • $ 200 million dollars

as well as prompting declines in share prices of +/- 3%.

This does not even take into account the losses in revenues and productivity for business and export.

But what must not be overlooked is the loss which takes place in, for lack of better words, heart. Moments lost, personal moments of meaning, due to lack of mobility. This article has in fact been inspired by a Client who is currently stuck in JFK, desperately trying to get back to the UK since the end of the week, in order to stand beside his brother at the end of the aisle, as Best Man. The Best Man’s wedding speech will now be an email transmission. The day will be a series of photographs. The heartbreak enduring.

Would I exchange my ticket to enable his flight? In a heartbeat.

As the days ahead unfold and the aviation skies into and out of Europe open up once more, may we not lose the sense of blessing each time we board. Our movement is now part of our identity…

Time to board.

Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2010