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Vulture 1, Eyjafjallajökull nil (half time)

BA, beaks, unions invade pitch in second half

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From the Ash Cloud If the latest tranche of volcanic ash has cut off chunks of the UK from Europe again, it certainly didn't hit the traffic of the M25 yesterday morning.

But as the taxi came out of the umpteenth 40mph zone, just ahead of the Terminal 5 turnoff the driver looked up to the sky and declared, "Nope, it's very clear. Not a plane in the sky."

Just how long was it worth staying in the airport before you realise that you may make that HP Conference in Berlin, but no one else seems to be going anywhere?

Terminal 5 was its usual self - a bland Eno track on constant play.

There were visitor information people to help those passengers who were finding it hard to grasp that, other than the odd flight to Northern Europe, no one was going anywhere right now.

One business type was fuming after being told BA was laying on coaches to take passengers to Edinburgh.

"What? Spend hours getting a coach to Edinburgh? After I've paid hundreds of pounds for a flight? Where do I get a train?" If he'd shut up five seconds, the woman might have been able to tell him. She was very patient but it was only early days yet. Will BAA lay on extra defibrillators for the duration of the ash crisis?

I asked what would happen if I went through security but realised the whole meeting had been cancelled and it wasn't worth getting on the flight. "I don't know, sorry," she said, "You'd have to ask BA." I think she'd have thought it bad form if I had a flight available and didn't actually take it.

Needless to say, getting through security was exceptionally quick, and departures relatively quiet. There was the usual smattering of Monday morning business travellers, a number of very orthodox-looking Jewish families, and a rather jangly Masai warrior. He made quite a racket just sitting down, so heavens knows what he'd sound like pogoing.

It really looked like a BA advert, without the opera in the background.

The gate was called, on time, and was A15 - ie in the main terminal, in full view of the main shopping area and coffee shops. It was almost as if BA wanted to at least keep up the pretence it was getting people on planes. Not sure if it made those passengers going nowhere feel any better though. I imagine most of them were still the other side of security. Or at home, or on the M25.

Boarding was also exceptionally fast. The pilot told us that while most of the UK was shuttered by the ash, the path to Berlin was clear. But apparently most people travelling today wanted to go south, and would be staying in London.

We were on the runway five minutes after the scheduled departure time, and over the North Sea after 20. It really was just like a commercial, except that to the North you could see a particularly grubby wall of cloud. Of course, the clouds in commercials will have been touched up. Nothing to do with the ash. Was it?

So, at half time, we appear to have beaten the ash cloud. Of course, there's still getting back tomorrow to worry about, at which point there's the small matter of the BA strike - or those bits of it which didn't hear about the court judgement in time - to deal with. ®

There'll be more from Joe Fay from Berlin - and the Ash Cloud - later.

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