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Steve tells Mark about his experiences in Europe during the famous Ash Cloud.
Mark: Hello and welcome to another episode of the EnglishLingQ podcast.
Steve: Hello there, Steve here.
Mark: Mark and Steve here, as usual.
We’ve had a bit of a hiatus from the podcast since you’ve been traveling.
You were in Europe during the whole ash cloud excitement.
Steve: Yeah, it was quite interesting.
I flew out of here, I think it was the 10th of April or so, went to Sweden and kind of crisscrossed Sweden, but we were up fairly far north in Sweden in a place called Skellefteå.
Flew up there flew back down and the very next day all flights were stopped out of the Stockholm Airport.
So we were quite lucky in that we weren’t stuck up there, because that’s like about a 15-hour drive from northern Sweden to Stockholm.
Steve: That would not be so much fun.
This was all related to the wood business.
We were supposed to fly from Stockholm to Hamburg and then from Hamburg to Vienna.
And it was kind of interesting.
At first we didn’t believe it — that the airports were shut down because of this ash cloud.
Mark: Well, I remember you saying that it didn’t look like anything and the sun was shinning.
Steve: There was no evidence of any ash cloud over us.
Maybe, sitting here in North America, you thought Europe was covered in this haze.
Mark: Well that’s kind of the impression that I had.
Oh, it must be really pretty dark over there.
Steve: No, not at all.
Mark: Ash blowing around.
Steve: Sunny days, every day was sunny.
Except that we would look on the Internet and you’d see the map of Europe with this brown sort of extent of the ash cloud and all the airports that were shut down, but, no, we had no evidence of it.
We were supposed to fly down Sunday night to Hamburg and we decided we’re not going to wait; we’re just going to assume that the flight isn’t going.
We have a representative in Sweden, so with his car we drove down to Hamburg.
It was about a 10-hour drive.
No major traffic on the roads.
Stopped for a sandwich here and there and that was it.
Steve: Then we were supposed to fly from Hamburg to Vienna and, there again, the planes weren’t flying so we rented a car this time.
The trains were hard to get on in Germany, because a lot of people who normally fly were taking the trains.
So there were two of us at this point and we just rented a car and drove south, stopped and spent one night in the medieval town of Dinkelsbuehl, it was very nice, visited a sawmill and then drove to Vienna and then flew home.
Mark: And you were lucky, I guess, on your flight home.
The day you were scheduled to fly home from Vienna was the day the flights were allowed again, so you didn’t end up…
Steve: Well that’s right.
Mark: Because anyone who had been trying to fly home in the days preceding was now on a wait list; whereas, you came along on your scheduled day, got on your plane and off you went.
Mark: All the people that had been waiting a week, or however long it was, are there on standby…
Steve: Out of luck.
Mark: …which must has been not that great.
Steve: You know it was interesting.
We were driving and I spoke to my travel agent and the way my ticket was written, because I always go on the cheapest possible ticket, my farthest point was Vienna and if you don’t show up for one leg they might consider you a no show and therefore you would lose the rest of your, you know, reservations.
But it looked like planes were flying out of Frankfurt and they weren’t flying out of Vienna, so my travel agent said that he could arrange it with Lufthansa so that I wouldn’t have to go to Vienna because at this point we no longer had a meeting in Vienna.
But, in the end, I just was afraid of doing that because, first of all, the fellow I was with we couldn’t get him on a train to Vienna, so I had to go to Vienna with the car for his sake; although, I could have given him the car, I guess, and taken a train back, but it was hard to get on trains.
We went to the train station in Munich and, you know, we asked them what time are the trains to Vienna and oh, yeah, there’s one at 15:59 and one at 17:22 or something and I said are there any seats?
Ah, he says, you’ll have to line up to find out.
Go and take a ticket.
There were 40 people ahead of us for two trips.
Mind you, they’re not all going to Vienna, but it was very crowded.
We figured our chances if we waited — 40 people before we got to speak to a ticket agent — maybe that wasn’t so smart.
So we just drove to Vienna hoping that we could fly out the next day and we did.
So that worked out well.
Mark: Yeah. No, I think it worked out alright for you.
Well, on the flight from Frankfurt people came onboard.
You know, as we got onboard there were people who’d started their flight in Frankfurt.
A fellow sitting beside me said that they had come to the airport three consecutive days on standby.
The first day they arrived at 11:00 and other people had arrived at 7:00 in the morning.
Steve: So the following two days they came at 7:00 to be first in line and finally on the third day they got on a flight.
Gee, I think that’d be kind of tough.
You’re spending all this money on a hotel.
Mark: I know.
Steve: You’re traveling to the airport every day.
Obviously, you’ve got to bring your luggage each time.
You wait and then you’re standby and oh, no, you didn’t make it.
Go back home.
Mark: Yeah, that’s pretty tough.
I understand that the rules in Europe are that European airlines are responsible for hotel costs for any passengers inconvenienced by schedule changes; although, I understand the European airlines are fighting this because that would be a horrendous bill.
It’s not just the people that are in Europe stranded, but the Europeans that were abroad that were stranded as well, people in wherever, Thailand or whatever, you heard about that, I guess, had an extended holiday, whether they wanted to or not.
But, apparently, the laws in Europe do say, if I’m not mistaken, that the airlines are responsible for all those costs and they’re trying to, obviously, fight it.
I mean how can you blame the airlines?
I mean the government made the ruling – government organizations – that no flights could fly and then the airlines have to pay for that?
Steve: Well, I was listening, as you know, to my Russian on Echo Moskvy and they were interviewing two Russians who were stranded.
And, of course, the view of the passenger is, you know, I should be compensated and the interviewer from the radio station was very sympathetic.
You mean they didn’t look after you?
They didn’t pay for your hotel room, isn’t that terrible?
And so forth.
But, as some would say in the lumber business where we sell lumber, sometimes there can be wood that’s less than perfect or there can be circumstances often beyond our control.
Maybe there’s a strike or a company goes bankrupt and doesn’t ship the wood.
And so, yeah, it’s very uncomfortable as a company when you get hit with these very, very heavy charges for things.
Obviously, if our lumber is not on grade that’s a problem, but if there’s a strike or if one of our suppliers goes bankrupt, these are things beyond our control.
The customers are unhappy and they want us to compensate them.
I mean the airlines are all half broke anyway, where are they going to get the money?
Mark: Well that’s the thing.
I mean people are very quick to complain about the airline should do this, the airline should do that, but at the same time if they can save $3.00 by going from one airline to another they will.
I mean I think the margins in that business are very low because it’s just so cutthroat.
I mean it’s just a commodity business.
Everybody tries to sell their tickets for as cheap as they can and then if something like this happens then they are now on the hook to look after everybody?
I mean it’s not realistic.
Steve: People are so unreasonable, so unreasonable.
They complain about service on the airlines.
They complain that there should be more service.
There should be more planes.
There should be this.
There should be that.
And, as you say, they’ll shop around for the cheapest possible flight and then they’ll complain that they’re not put up in a five-star hotel when something like this happens, so.
Mark: If it was possible for an airline to charge more and provide a full service, you know, great food, whatever, full compensation if you’re inconvenienced, yeah, we charge more but we provide all this, I think if it was possible to do that and make money someone would be doing it.
So, therefore, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.
Steve: Right. That’s a good English expression.
Yeah, but, I mean the consumer is the consumer.
As long as the consumer has a choice, but if all the airlines go broke then the consumer won’t have a choice.
There won’t be any airlines flying.
Mark: It was interesting.
Kate here in the office was saying that a friend of hers had bought a charter ticket.
Steve: Oh, they’re the worst.
Mark: They’re the worst, yeah.
So they had a charter bought during that period to go to Europe for a week.
Whether it was flight and hotels or not I don’t know, but they had bought their charter and then they couldn’t go because no flights could go to Europe and apparently they just lost their money.
Steve: Yeah, same in Europe.
Mark: There was no refund, no nothing.
Steve: Same in Europe; people in Sweden.
And there are lots… I mean if you’re in a country like Sweden, the land of the midnight darkness, in winter there are a lot of people planning to go to Cyprus and North Africa or Egypt or whatever — that’s what we kept on hearing on the radio – all those people just lost those, gone.
Mark: How’s that possible?
Steve: Reservation at the hotel…gone, nothing, zero.
At least with the major airlines you can fly at some point on your ticket.
Mark: I mean why wouldn’t those charters be responsible to give that money back?
That’s what I don’t understand.
Steve: I don’t know. I don’t know.
Mark: I don’t know. Anyway, it sounds amazing.
Steve: But, you know of all the things that I worry about the vacationing Swedes or Canadians who lost their charter, I don’t.
Mark: You don’t worry because…
Steve: It wasn’t me.
Mark: It wasn’t you. I know.
That’s the thing.
I was surprised to hear that.
Wow, they’re allowed to do that?
I was surprised to hear that.
It’s not their fault, but it’s not your fault either that they weren’t able to fly you.
You didn’t fly.
You didn’t go for your holiday and yet you’re still out that money.
Steve: But, you know, it sort of makes me think.
You know we do live in an extraordinary world.
If you consider the however many hundred thousand years that humanoids have been wandering around on the planet and probably for most of that period most of them didn’t wander very far; although, some of them wandered far because they spread out to basically settle the whole globe.
Mark: It might have taken them a while.
Steve: It wasn’t an afternoon stroll.
Mark: I don’t think it was one guy went from Africa to Sweden.
Steve: No, so over 10,000 years they moved a couple of thousand miles, maybe.
But here we are today, just jump on a plane and fly somewhere.
Anything that happens is news everywhere.
You know I was thinking.
This morning we had a little bit of a glitch on LingQ and we alerted our guy in St.
Petersburg and he starts working on it.
We got another guy working on something in Bolivia.
A fellow in Croatia did our design.
We’ve got members in every country creating content for our libraries of different languages.
We have a community of people working together.
We have a project of people from 20-30-40 different countries working on different aspects of this thing.
I mean talk about globalization.
It’s absolutely amazing.
Even 10 years ago it wouldn’t have been possible.
You would have to be in a major corporation with branches all over the place, you know?
Steve: And here we are today, just a little fly by night.
Mark: Yeah. I mean the Internet is amazing.
Steve: Not fly by night, by-the-seat-of-the-pants operation.
I wouldn’t say that, but small is the word.
Steve: Small, but very professional, of course.
But we have a group of collaborators on just about every continent.
It’s extraordinary; globalization.
Mark: Yeah and if you figure Serge before was in Antarctica.
Steve: Was he in Antarctica?
Mark: Yeah or down there somewhere.
Steve: Was he listening to LingQ?
Mark: Maybe not in Antarctica, but…
Steve: Do they have the Internet in Antarctica?
Mark: This was before he was on LingQ, I think.
But we certainly have people from Africa on our forum, from Egypt, from I think the Ivory Coast we’ve had, lots from Asia, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, Latin America, Chili, Argentina.
Did I leave out a continent?
Steve: Australia, yeah, Australia and New Zealand we have, probably some lost island in the Pacific.
Mark: I’m sure. I don’t know.
Steve: So, anyway.
Mark: Anyway, you made it back.
No more ash cloud concerns that we’ve heard.
I mean the ash cloud thing, I guess the thing about it is nobody is too sure if it was that serious an issue or not.
Steve: Well, no.
Mark: There was a plane affected in the ‘60s.
Steve: I mean they’ve got to air on the side of safety.
I have no trouble with that.
How many planes do they wait to go down before they…
Steve: Right and then the fact that they sent some planes up there with some pilots just to test it.
I don’t know much about it, but do you want to be the pilot of that plane?
Mark: I didn’t know that they had done that.
Steve: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.
Lufthansa, KLM and a few other airlines sent some planes up to see, so.
Mark: I might have wanted a parachute.
Steve: Yeah, anyway… But you know the other thing I think about is Iceland, like they’re right beside this volcano.
There’s an even bigger one that’s going to erupt that often erupts a few weeks or months after the little one.
Iceland… First of all, how would you like to live in country called Iceland, you know?
But apparently it’s not that cold.
Greenland is arctic.
Mark: It’s a little misleading, the two names, really.
Steve: I know, Greenland.
Talk about the original real estate promotion.
You know, buy some land in sunny Greenland.
Mark: I’ve got to assume that it wasn’t always arctic.
Wasn’t it, in those days, it was…
Steve: Well that was the little warming period.
Mark: It was warmer, so it was green.
Steve: Yeah, they grew grapes in Newfoundland or something.
Steve: And this was followed then by the cold period; those paintings of Bruegel where they’re skating on the canals in Holland.
It led to tremendous famines in Europe and so forth in the 17th century, but earlier, whenever it was, I can’t remember, 11th or 12th century, it was warm; whether it was green or not I don’t know.
Mark: I have to assume.
They didn’t just call it Greenland for nothing.
Steve: I don’t know. Why would they call Iceland Iceland and then call Greenland Greenland?
Mark: Maybe they weren’t discovered at the same times.
I think if I remember history, Eric the Red or Leif the Ready or whoever it was, Leif the Lucky, they went to the one place and then to the other and from there they went on to Newfoundland and Labrador…
Steve: …where they were annihilated by the local, friendly, natives.
Steve: Beothuks who, unfortunately, got annihilated in their turn by some other unfriendly invaders, anyway…
So, yeah, I’m back.
It was interesting.
You know the other thing about travel is it is quite stimulating, you know?
I always don’t like to go, because it’s a disruption to your routine.
You know you’ve got your things that you’re doing.
I’m playing hockey or we meet for a family get together and whatever, friends then all of a sudden you’ve got to break that routine, so it’s always a little bit…I hate kind of tearing myself away, but once you get out.
Unfortunately on the flight out I couldn’t book my seat, so I sat not in the aisle where I like to sit, but one in from the aisle amongst the four in the middle and the guy beside me probably weighed about 300 pounds and was 6’8”.
Mark: Yeah. That’s tough.
Steve: He had a great big gut and kind of overflowed into my seat area.
And the Lufthansa seat configuration is not very user friendly, so when the person in front leaned their seat back then the reading light didn’t come at my book, so I had to kind of bend.
Mark: Oh yeah.
Steve: I was trying to avoid this large fellow on my right and I was moving my book over to where I could read.
Anyway, what can you do?
Mark: Yeah. All those things make for a much longer flight.
Steve: However, once you’re there and you see a different country and you’re traveling, there’s something about it that’s definitely stimulating and I think it’s good.
It kind of recharges your batteries to travel, so.
And if you can’t travel then learn a foreign language.
Mark: It’s almost like traveling…
Mark: …in the LingQ Library.
Steve: Well that’s right.
You’re traveling in terms of culture and what better place to do that than at LingQ?
Mark: I think we’ve said it all right there.
Steve: Right there we have, yeah.
Mark: We might just want to wrap it up then.
Steve: You know I do get requests, but I can’t remember what… We’d had the one request, which we did on homes.
Steve: I think we’ve had a request on food.
Steve: We will respond, so if there is anything you would like us to talk about, please let us know.
Mark: Absolutely. Talk to you again next time.
Steve: Bye for now.