CHICAGO — A volcanic ash cloud that shut down airports and tied up air traffic across Europe could turn into a long, costly headache for businesses, airlines and tourists in the United States. And the president's trip to Poland later this week could be affected.
It was unclear Thursday whether the eruption would affect the travel plans of President Barack Obama and other world leaders planning to attend the state funeral Sunday in Krakow of Polish President Lech Kaczynski, who died in a plane crash. Polish authorities banned flights over part of northwestern Poland late Thursday, the country's PAP news agency reported.
AccuWeather meteorologists said the ash plume will threaten air travel over Europe through Sunday at the least. Einar Kjartansson, a geophysicist at the Icelandic Meteorological Office, said the problem might persist for weeks, depending on how much wind carries the ash.
In the U.S., the ash forced airlines to cancel flights and redirect planes. Many in the travel industry weren't asking if they would be affected — but how badly.
"The costs could be extraordinary," said Jeffrey Price, an aviation professor at Metropolitan State College of Denver.
"This is the ultimate act of God," said Chicago-based transportation expert Joseph Schwieterman. "It's hard to imagine a weather scenario that would disrupt the entire Atlantic flight system like this."
On an average day, U.S. airlines operate about 340 flights to and from Europe, according to the Air Transport Association. On Thursday, American carriers canceled about 165 of those flights because of the ash, and the ATA expected at least as many to be canceled Friday
A Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman said the cancellations affected at least 10 countries: England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Sweden, United Arab Emirates, Finland, France, Belgium and Denmark.