Most tourists stranded by the volcanic ash crisis will be home by Monday although thousands could be stuck for nearly another week, European airlines and government officials say.
A week of airspace closures caused by ash spewed by Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano prompted the worst breakdown in civil aviation in Europe since the Second World War, with about 100,000 flights cancelled.
Mark Tanzer, chief executive of Britain's ABTA, which represents U.K. travel agents and tour operators, said about 100,000 stranded British travellers should be home by Monday morning. However, about 35,000 others will remain marooned until Friday, the group said.
"While most flights are back to normal, and most stranded British passengers will be back by the end of this weekend, there is still quite a high level of disruption in some destinations," Tanzer said. "In some areas of the world, there is a significant lack of air capacity to enable British people to be returned quickly."
Airlines said about 2,000 Belgians were stuck, mainly in Egypt and Tunisia, and 3,000 French tourists remained in various destinations. Austrian Airlines said passengers stuck in Thailand would return home Sunday, and "we are confident that by Monday all passengers will be returned to Europe."
German and Swiss airlines reported few problems with stranded travellers.
Less ash, but eruption goes on
Many Icelandic airports were closed. Although authorities said Eyjafjallajokull is now producing much less ash, they confirmed no signs of the eruption ending.
More than 100 volunteers joined Iceland's Red Cross and other agencies over the weekend to help clear ash from farms and houses close to the volcano, Iceland's Civil Protection Agency said.
The agency said scientists flew over the eruption site late Saturday to monitor Eyjafjallajokull's activity.
"The quantity of the volcanic plume is slowly decreasing," the agency said in a statement. But it added that there are "no indications that the eruption is coming to an end."
Scientists said the volcano is unlikely at present to cause further disruption to European airspace, as the ash plume is now too small to reach jet streams and because winds have changed direction.
In Belgium, foreign affairs spokesman Patrick Deboeck said most travellers should be on the way on Monday at the latest. "There are still some problems in Bangkok and the United States but we expect a lot of departures today and Monday," he said. "We hope that everything within the coming week will be back to normal."
France's foreign ministry said a small number of French passengers were still grounded in Nepal and about 300 in New Delhi.
Budget carrier easyJet said airlines were attempting to move 200,000 stranded travellers. "Bringing 200,000 passengers home has required a massive airlift," said chief executive Andy Harrison.