Letter From New York April 23, 2010

Or, as it seems to me…

My life has been full the last week; the mobile channel demands, a website needs to be re-launched, I’ve had dinner with friends and feted a colleague who is departing for Portland, Oregon… But nothing has driven me to comment.

Though of all the things in the news my mind has been on the chaos that has been inflicted upon international air travel due to the eruption of a volcano in Iceland named Eyjafjallajokull. I will make no effort to pronounce it. Eyjafjallajokull blew its top just as the annual MIP conference and market was coming to its end. [MIP is a television conference held in Cannes in April at which ten to fifteen thousand television executives flock to buy and sell programs to one another.] Many of those television executives were left stranded by the eruption and the subsequent shut down of European Air Space. And a number of them are people that I know.

Well, life could be worse. You might be stranded but you were in the south of France and certainly that’s not bad, especially if you’re working for a large company that is picking up the tab. But many of the stranded, some of them my friends, are small independents for whom the extended stay in the south of France is a financial burden. As I write this many are still attempting to get back to the states. One poor man was offered a flight on the first of August…

It wasn’t just international flights that were shut down. So, too, were intra-European flights. Lots of the English rented cars and drove across France to wait their turn to get on overcrowded ferries. John Cleese, the British comedian, took a $5000.00 taxi ride back home. A few lucky ones booked trains before they became impossible to get. Others, perhaps wisely, surrendered and decided an extended time in the south of France was not so bad. Plus they were surrounded by other television executives and there was always the chance a deal might be made. This extended stay was dubbed “MIPcano” by the wags, the aftermarket, sponsored by Iceland.

One executive I know was last seen headed in a mad dash for Madrid in search of a flight while another friend headed to Rome where, before she could board her Alitalia flight, her purse was stolen with credit cards, cash and passport, adding to the misery and the chaos. A few folks headed to Lisbon looking for flights, anywhere south of the no fly zone.

It will be weeks before the air system catches up with the backlog.

Transatlantic sailings didn’t sound so bad. The scheduled crossing of the Queen Mary II had a waiting list. Five days at sea beat five days waiting to find out when you might get a seat. The stories will resound through the television business for the next twenty years. It will be legend – as such things are. And the efforts to get home will overshadow any of the business that was done there.

So, as I type this and as you read this, god’s speed to those still trying to get home. Some may not make it for another week or two.

I also heard this morning that this will change the way airlines and control agencies respond. They will figure out how better to manage something like this, the worst disruption in airline history since 9/11 and probably worst overall. Just the thing a battered airline industry needed.

Yet as I was sipping wine at the farewell party for the colleague moving to Portland, Oregon another colleague and I spoke about the mess in airline travel in Europe and compared it with other things going on in the world. There was an earthquake in China and hundreds of thousands were suffering from snow that fell today and they had no homes to shelter them. Haiti has receded from the news but Port Au Prince is still in ruins. Bombs still go off in the streets of Iraq’s cities. War is happening in Afghanistan.

Being stranded in the south of France is not the worst thing…

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