Seven Lessons From the Great Volcano Shutdown of 2010
Eric Weiner: What should we learn from the historic grounding of thousands of flights?
04.19.10 | 12:45 PM ET
When the dust—or in this case, the ash—finally settles over Europe and the Great Volcano Shutdown of 2010 is rendered history, what will we have learned? A few things, I think.
1) We Really Are Living in a Global Village, and That Village Isn’t Always Perfect
A volcano erupts in a remote part of Iceland and within a few days you can’t get a hotel room in Los Angeles or Hong Kong. Such is the interconnected world in which we live. While we benefit from seamless connections and global alliances, we suffer when one part of the international air-travel system—in this case the entire continent of Europe—misfires. A flat world is not always a happy one.
2) Don’t Mess with Iceland
Iceland, until recently a happy boutique nation, became something of a global joke when its overextended banks contributed to the global financial meltdown. Jilted shareholders in Britain, in particular, were furious, and poked fun at the little island-nation that couldn’t. Might the volcanic eruption be Iceland’s revenge for all that ribbing? Perhaps. Why else would the Brits now be crying, “We said send cash, not ash!”
3) Mother Nature Still Gets The Last Word
It’s easy to think that we have, if not conquered Mother Nature, at least subdued Her. The modern airplane is indeed a technological marvel, with fly-by-wire flight controls, onboard radar and enough computing power to run a small city, or even an iPad. But it is still bound by the laws of nature. (One of those laws being that volcanic ash and jet engines don’t mix.) Nature giveth flight and Nature occasionally taketh away. That’s humbling, in a good way.
4) Trains are Good
With European airlines grounded, stranded passengers scrambled for a seat—any seat—on a train. Yes, the old-fashioned, maligned, frumpy train is suddenly the most popular kid in school. And for good reason. Trains are more comfortable than airplanes, more likely to arrive and depart from city centers, with better food, no turbulence, less draconian security, and an actual view of the scenery. And, of course, trains could care less about some giant cloud of volcanic ash. What’s not to like?
5) Airports Make Lousy Bedrooms
Just in case you were wondering.
6) Acceptance is the Only Sane Response to a Situation Like This
When faced with a near-total shutdown of European air travel, there are two possible responses. You could fret, fume, vent and grind your teeth, haranguing the airline staff as if they were personally responsible for the volcanic eruption. Or you could accept the inevitable and belly up to the airport bar for a Bloody Mary, or two, until the ash dissipates. My money is on the latter option.
7) Air Travel is a Miracle, Plain and Simple
A giant vehicle weighing hundreds of tons flies—like a bird—through the skies, soaring—like a bird!—above the clouds at nearly the speed of sound and transporting you in a few short hours to a different time zone, a different climate. Somehow we’ve managed to forget that this is—and there is no other words for it—a f***ing miracle. Maybe the Great Volcano Shutdown of 2010 will remind us.