THERE were scenes of joy, relief and confusion at Cardiff Airport as the first rescue flights bringing stranded holidaymakers back home arrived.
The airport, which was eerily quiet for the six days of the flight ban due to the Icelandic ash cloud, was yesterday a hive of hectic activity as “repatriation flights” from Malaga, Las Palmas, Alicante and elsewhere began to arrive.
The unscheduled flights carried passengers for Bristol, London, Birmingham and other destinations in the UK.
Special coaches were laid on for passengers who should have landed at other UK Airports.
The first flight to arrive had taken off from Genoa, Italy, carrying holidaymakers from Malaga. It landed just after 1pm and as passengers checked through customs they had familiar stories of arduous journeys to tell.
But the atmosphere was generally good natured as people waited in the Rhoose sunshine for their coaches.
Chris Keld, his wife Valerie and 11-year-old son Jamie should have arrived back in Bristol from their holiday in Malaga last Sunday.
Instead, they were brought back to Cardiff on yesterday’s rescue flight having endured a 16-hour coach trip from Malaga to Lloret de Mar, also in Spain, and a further half-hour coach trip to the airport in Genoa.
Catering manager Chris said: “They were planning to take us to Calais, France, which would have been another 20 hours-plus journey on the coach.
“But Thomson arranged a flight from Genoa and we were put on that.
“The coach journey from Malaga to Lloret de Mar was hard going because there were lot of children on it who were tired. But I must say that Thomson treated us very well and we are delighted to be back.”
Jamie said: “I’ve missed some school and I’m looking forward to getting back to playing football.”
On the same flight were fellow Bristolians Evelyn Brown, 68, her daughter Shelley, 38, and her 10-year-old grandson Pierce.
They had endured the same trek to Genoa, and were equally sanguine about their experience.
Office worker Shelley said: “We enjoyed the extra time out there. The only problem was not knowing exactly what was gong on and when we would be able to come home.”
People on the flight who were from London and Birmingham had a longer wait at the airport because their coaches had not been booked in advance. This was because airport officials had been told that only people travelling to Bristol and Cardiff would be on the flight.
But the extra delay did not trouble husband and wife Phillip and Pauline Elliot, from London. The couple were due to fly back to Gatwick last Friday.
Phillip said: “We can’t complain about our treatment. We’ve been watching the news on the television and this is nothing to what others have suffered.
“We’ve also made lots of friends who have gone through the same thing.”
Meanwhile, a scheduled flight to Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, was delayed by more than five hours due to continuing operational difficulties resulting from flight ban.
Passengers were given food vouchers to ease the pain of the delay. Vivian Evans, who was on the flight with his wife Janice and two friends, said: “The delay is disappointing. But then again some people have had their holidays cancelled altogether.”
But a bmibaby flight to Edinburgh which was due to leave at 1.35pm was cancelled due to concerns about volcanic ash.
Passengers had to pay a second time for seats on a plane operated by carrier Flybe.
Airport spokesman Steve Hodgetts said the higher price for the Flybe flight was a matter of “simple economics” because passengers had rebooked with a different operator for a same day flight.
He said: “We predicted that there would be some confusion after the ban was lifted, with flights being cancelled, diverted or delayed. This is likely to continue for some time.
“This is happening across the UK, and passengers are being repatriated as quickly as possible.”
A spokeswoman for bmibaby said: “The CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) requires each airline to undertake a risk assessment to determine whether they can operate safely in areas contaminated with volcanic ash and to develop enhanced maintenance and inspection procedures.
“Based on the current results of this risk assessment, bmibaby has decided to cancel its flights from Cardiff, East Midlands and Birmingham Airport to Edinburgh Airport today (April 22).
“Safety is our number one priority and we will continue to work closely with the CAA, NATS and the Met Office to monitor the situation.”