HOLIDAYMAKERS were today arriving back on Tyneside, as the skies above the UK reopened.
Services were slowly getting back to normal at Newcastle Airport as airlines reopen flights to and from the region.
Airlines and passengers still face challenges with a backlog of stranded holidaymakers waiting to get home.
With flights closed, many spent days crossing Europe as they attempted to find another way back via Channel ports.
Among them were weary holidaymakers who arrived at Newcastle Airport late last night after an epic overland coach journey from southern Spain.
The 1,200-mile trek took almost 40 hours as Jet2.com launched a rescue mission for passengers stranded by the volcanic ash crisis.
A series of coaches were mobilised to ferry North East families from Spanish tourist hotspots, the length of France, by ship from Calais to Dover, and back to Tyneside.
On board one was Liz McBride, from Cramlington, Northumberland, who had been on a week’s holiday to Alicante.
The 42-year-old accountant and her son Sam, aged nine, said they were ecstatic to be home.
“It’s been an ordeal to say the least,” said Liz. “I’ve never been so happy to see Newcastle Airport. We’re very tired and just want to get home to our own beds and sleep.
“I want to say that everything was brilliantly organised and I’m very grateful to Jet2. Our coach stopped at an air base outside Paris where we transferred to a UK coach to take us the rest of the way home. We are very grateful for everyone’s efforts.”
With their 15-month-old son Elliot, Alexis and Neil Marlborough, from Whitley Bay, had to dash from Lanzarote to get the coach after a week’s break.
Alexis, 29, who is a statistician, said: “The whole trip has been very tiring and worrying at times. It’s wonderful to be back in the North East again. The holiday has been overshadowed by events but we don’t blame anyone. It’s just one of those things.”
Members of Durham City Swimming Club made it back to Tyneside by road.
A 40-strong group, including 21 children, had flown out to the Spanish Costa del Sol resort of Torremolinos to train in the town’s Olympic-sized swimming pool.
Some of the group had to pay £400 for a taxi to take them to Jet2’s coach pick-up point in Murcia.
In another rescue operation, a 757 Jet2.com flight to Sharm el Sheikh took off from Newcastle Airport just after 11am yesterday to pick up 229 passengers from the Egyptian tourist resort.
The flight, one of the first to leave the UK, was manned by 12 crew members.
Dependent on the flight restrictions and advice from the National Air Traffic Control authority (NATS), the plane was due to either transfer people back to the UK or to mainland Europe.
A spokesman for Newcastle Airport said today: “The airport was among the first in the UK to reopen and we have already reopened facilities to ensure the transition back to normality is as smooth as possible.”
There are 29 departures planned for today and three arrivals.
A phased resumption of flights is now expected as flight operators get back to business.
Airlines rushed to reschedule flights but there were warnings it could be weeks before services returned to normal. The CAA stepped in to ease restrictions on Tuesday night and described the chaos as “a situation without precedent”. It is estimated hundreds of thousands of passengers were left stranded abroad in a shutdown thought to have cost the industry about £130m a day.
Last night flights diverted to Newcastle included an Air Transat Boeing 757 from Toronto, Canada, which landed at 7.45pm. Alexandra Mehra, 21, from Kingston upon Thames in London, said passengers were told of the diversion when they were just an hour away from Gatwick.