Saturday, April 9, 2011

Volcanic ash revisited, Part I

As I sit on a plane somewhere over the north Atlantic Ocean, alot of thoughts a running through my head. I’m grateful for the opportunity to travel and work with people from all over the world. I’m looking forward to a weekend over there before we begin our long days of meetings. I’m REALLY grateful for an exit row seat with an empty seat next to me.

And I’m reminiscing. Reminiscing about volcanic ash.

Last year I was on this same business trip – overseas to meet with underwriters who provide international coverage for large catastrophes such as hurricanes. I will never forget that morning, the last day of meetings in London. We were on our way to the office when we heard the news. A volcano had erupted in Iceland and there was a large cloud of ash spreading over Europe. You remember that being on the news, right? It probably was just an interesting news story to you. To me, it was life.

Well, it wasn’t too long before we knew that our itinerary was completely blown out of the water. We would not be able to fly to our next meetings in Zurich. We were supposed to wrap up the tour after that with a meeting in Paris. Could we get there by train? Could we switch the order around? Would we be forced to settle for conference calls? But most of all, WHEN AND HOW WOULD WE GET HOME?

Yes, that was a real concern. All air travel in Europe was canceled, except (I think) some flights out of Madrid. Every day that we were there, it was getting worse. Nobody knew when it would be lifted.

Back home, family and friends were following the news closely. They heard stories of overbooked hotel rooms. They wondered whether I was constantly breathing in a bunch of junk that would clog up my lungs. They were worried, and I guess if I had been in their shoes I would have too. But it was a great example of how the press sensationalizes stuff to get viewers and readers. Once we got to Paris, our hotel manager assured us we would have our rooms as long as needed. Believe it or not, we could not actually see the ash – most of the time the skies were blue. Just walking around, it was hard to understand why we were stuck.

So it was time for the adventure to commence. Trains, planes, and automobiles. We had our conference call with the Zurich underwriters, giving up on getting there.  Then we got word that we had seats on the train to Paris (the one that goes under the English Channel – that’s pretty cool). Well, “seats” is not exactly right. As you might imagine, transportation was getting rather scarce as everyone was scrambling to find alternatives to air travel. But we got tickets, just not with seats. So we got on the train, and found ourselves standing in the compartment with our luggage. But we were grateful to be able to get the heck out of London.

So there we were on a Friday afternoon, with meetings scheduled for Monday. What to do Saturday? Oh. My. Goodness. That Saturday was one of the wildest things that has ever happened to me.

More on that next time.

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