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April 17, 2010

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At least 30 Chinese in Europe find return trip plans in ashes

MORE than 30 Chinese tourists with trips arranged by Shanghai travel agencies were stranded in Europe yesterday, unable to fly home after airports were shut because of clouding volcano ash.

And headed in the other direction, 44 flights from Shanghai were canceled yesterday, mostly bound for London, Frankfurt, Stockholm and Paris, according to the Pudong International Airport Website.

"We have cancelled flights to affected regions yesterday and today, and will keep an eye on the further situation," said Liu Shaoyong, chairman of China Eastern Airlines. "Such a wide range of volcanic ash is rare, and our key task is to ensure the safety of our passengers."

It's now a slack season for Europe-bound travel tours, so the effect on the Shanghai travel business was minor so far, according to travel agencies.

The major travel agencies usually send away a tour group to Europe every five to seven days.

Shanghai CYTS Tours, a leading local company, has a 20-person tour ready to fly to Europe on Sunday -- if conditions permit.

"We will wait and see for now," a company official said. "If they can't make the trip on Sunday because of the volcano influence, we will launch a normal refund process."

Not everyone was unhappy with the airport shutdowns.

"Usually, Friday is the busiest day of the week for us and we must work overtime," said Colin Han, a local air export company clerk. "But today, I got off work much earlier because of the special volcano influence."

The workers' time off, of course, was bad news for the cargo. Delivery schedules saw massive disruptions.

Shanghai Tourism Administration yesterday said it had no official figure of how many Shanghai tourists were currently traveling around the ash-affected European countries.

"I will just go and try my luck," said Ka Ka, a young local woman and office worker, who was scheduled to board a flight to Frankfurt yesterday evening to begin a long-planned European trip. "It's a great pity to waste my annual leaves just on waiting."

She said she planned to go to the Pudong International Airport anyway to see if she had any chance of making her trip. "It's hard to imagine something like this, taking place thousands of miles away from your place, could actually disrupt your life and plans," she said.


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