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Today’s skies were some of the bluest in decades as planes and their accompanying smoke trails vanished.

(Clear blue sky!)

It probably isn’t a hugely popular view, but perhaps the giant cloud of volcanic ash shrouding Europe’s skylines at the moment has done us some good.  Admittedly, I am not one of the thousands of people who had flights cancelled this week.  Many of those thousands of people probably had entirely viable reasons for taking to the skies.  For them, volcanic ash is an incredibly disruptive (and probably fairly unexpected) annoyance.  Deloitte estimated today that already airlines themselves have lost £52million as a result of the cloud, and businesses are set to suffer huge setbacks as a result of the disruption.  I even met a taxi driver yesterday who said that he’d been twiddling his thumbs while fares to and from Heathrow dried up.

There are, though, those who could do without air travel, or at least reduce their reliance upon it.  The total impossibility of flying over the past few days will have forced many to consider workarounds.  Meetings, for example, will have been rescheduled to take place on Skype.  Research trips might be conducted instead by phone or online.  Perhaps some will even have found local alternatives for whatever they were travelling abroad to find.  Although now a necessity, such workarounds might cause us to reconsider just how essential (or unessential) overseas travel was in the first place.

For other journeys, another alternative would be to find new modes of transport.  Trains and ferries have – understandably – seen a huge increase in demand this weekend.  One businessman , Nick Jones, intending to jet home from Berlin on Thursday night to host a party, instead took the train to Paris, then out to the coast before hopping on a ferry back home.  He received rapturous applause on arrival.

In 2007, air travel accounted for almost 80% of the UK’s international travel, not to mention the huge number of internal flights taking off every day.  Despite the availability of so-called ‘carbon offsetting’, air travel is still a major environmental polluter, a great annoyance for residents in the vicinity of airports and something of an eyesore.  For our increasingly flight-dependent culture, perhaps this enforced blue sky might open our eyes to alternatives, be it in discovering new modes of transport, or even in reassessing the necessity of travel in the first.

Of course, for everyone who has been affected, I hope that the dust cloud does blow away soon (perhaps a giant fan might help?).  Meanwhile, enjoy the blue skies, and perhaps take comfort in knowing that these guys can at least put their feet up for the moment.

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