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Ash worries persist

Flight disruptions prompt travel industry to brace for summer problems

The departure board in Heathrow included a canceled Boston flight. The departure board in Heathrow included a canceled Boston flight. (Oli Scarff/ Getty Images)
By Johnny Diaz
Globe Staff / May 18, 2010

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As a drifting ash from a volcano eruption in Iceland continued to disrupt international flights at airports worldwide yesterday, the travel industry began bracing for more potential scheduling problems heading into the summer.

One-sixth of the 36 scheduled flights between Logan International Airport and European destinations were canceled yesterday: two Icelandair flights between Reykjavik and Boston, an American Airlines flight from London, a Delta flight from Amsterdam, and two Aer Lingus flights from Dublin. Other airlines that fly between Boston and Europe were operating on a regular schedule yesterday, according to Logan officials.

The cancellations in Boston are the result of a worldwide ripple effect after aviation officials over the past weekend had to temporarily shutdown large airports in Ireland, Scotland, and the Netherlands, as well as London’s Heathrow Airport — Europe’s busiest airport — because of the ash cloud, which poses dangers to aircraft because microscopic particles can stall a jet engine.

The travel disruptions were the latest fallout from the volcano, which has been erupting for more than a month, stranding travelers, causing huge losses for airlines, and wreaking havoc at busy airports.

Last month, airlines said their combined losses had topped $2 billion, and the Air Transport Association has said the economic impact is worse than the three-day worldwide shutdown that followed the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Some travel industry analysts predict the volcano may present further travel problems as the summer approaches.

“It sounds like this is to be going on for a while,’’ said Michael Friedman, a Boston airline analyst. “It’s uncontrollable. You can’t control which way the wind is blowing with this volcanic ash. It’s a very unusual situation.’’

Phil Orlandella, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs Logan, said that future delays and cancellations going forward into summer “literally depend on how the winds blow and the temperament of the volcano.’’

Logan officials suggest that people with scheduled flights call their airlines ahead of time. “Just like inclement weather conditions, passengers should call their airline for firsthand flight information,’’ Orlandella said.

Daniel Durazo, a spokesman for Access America Travel Insurance, one of the largest travel insurance companies, said it’s too early to tell whether sales of travel insurance, which is typically about 5 percent of the cost of a trip, have increased since the volcano began erupting. But he said that his company, which works with travel agents and major airlines including American, Delta, and JetBlue, has experienced a 30 percent jump in the number of calls from passengers inquiring about travel insurance.

“We believe that there are quite a few people who are interested in travel insurance who may not otherwise have thought about it,’’ Durazo said.

Johnny Diaz can be reached at jodiaz@globe.com.