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How to travel to Europe in the ash cloud era

NASA ash cloud

NASA image showing the ash visible to the eye (left) and through infrared (right)

Much of Europe is currently a no-fly zone due to volcanic ash but, more worryingly, volcanologists are suggesting that Iceland’s Eyjafjallajoekull could continue erupting for months or years to come.  This could have a disastrous impact upon the airline industry as travelers will be reluctant to make advance bookings for flights, since many insurance companies do not reimburse for cancellations caused by “Act of God” events.

So at dinner last night my good friend Charlie proposed that this could be the event which finally tips the balance of international communication towards video conferencing and away from air travel.

In the short term I certainly agree with him.  If technology and science fiction has taught us anything however, it’s that there are always options.  So let’s look at the ones out there and then collectively weep about our lack of modern day research into most of them.

The Transporter (Star Trek)

Being able to act upon one of William Shatner’s most famous lines “Beam me up Scotty” would save us a lot of hassle right now.  In fact scientists in Copenhagen did manage to transport some matter 18 inches a few years ago but let’s be honest, that’s just going to get you from one part of the ash cloud to another.  18 miles would be more promising, and 18,000 is frankly what we need right now.  Gene, the world misses you more than ever now.

The FTL Drive (Battlesstar Galactica)

The BSG take on instant point to point transportation is the FTL drive, which requires huge computational effort but can’t possibly take as long to prep for as a typical traveler getting ready to pass through airport security.  The FTL drive has to be fitted to a craft, so individual transportation is not supported unlike the Star Trek Transporter.  However for today’s needs that’s just fine, we’d fit one to a 747 and FTL our way across the Atlantic in an instant.

The Holly Hop Drive (Red Dwarf)

Holly’s hilarious effort to transport Lister and the Red Dwarf crew back to Earth was one of the finest moments of this BBC comedy sci-fi masterpiece.  I think I’d feel safer manually navigating a rowing boat across the Atlantic to Europe than trusting Holly to Holly Hop me there through an ash cloud.  Check out this all-time classic show on Netflix, where it’s available to stream instantly to your PC/Mac/Xbox/Wii/PS3/iPad whatevs.

Hyperspace (Star Wars and many others)

For some reason the often unreliable Millenium Falcon was faster than anything Vader or the whole Imperial Empire could manufacture.  I’m sure that many would even be happy to sit out the journey in the prisoner block of an Imperial Destroyer if it meant saving them from another night of sleep deprivation in a departure terminal.  After all, the duration of the cross Atlantic voyage at hyperspace would take less time than the blink of an eye.  Alas it’s just one more technology brought to the silver screen but never quite mastered in real life.

Helium filled light airship

Back to reality, the Excelsior from Archer (Skytanic, Season 1) could actually become useful if the jet engine is temporarily doomed over European skies.  It might be super slow but it sure looks comfortable and hey, this one actually exists!

Neil Berman


Apr 18, 2010 - Posted by | Analysis, Rants | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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