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May 31, 2010

FEATURE | Heavy Equipment

European volcanic eruption clouds equipment conference travel

An e-mail arrived last Saturday, informing me that the sun was shining in Munich, and the Bauma showground was packed with people.

It was an unusual message to receive on the last day of the world’s biggest show of construction equipment.

But attendance to that point had been pretty bad.

Korky Koroluk

The culprit, of course, was Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano that blew its top in southeastern Iceland on April 14 and 15.

It is still spewing ash that was carried over much of Europe by the prevailing winds.

Airline flights within, to, and from Europe were grounded until April 20, when efforts began to chip away at the backlog of passengers, many of whom were stranded for days in airport terminals.

Many of the travellers had been headed for Munich.

Bauma is held every three years and draws huge numbers of people.

This, after all, is where many equipment manufacturers unveil additions to their lines.

The show is a big deal for the international construction community.

There were more than 3,100 displays this year, and many contractors had been looking forward to seeing the latest machines that perform just about every job the construction industry does.

For many, though, getting to Munich was the toughest part of the week. And as it wound down last weekend, many were still facing long homeward delays as airlines chipped away at the backlog.

Some passengers were being told they would be delayed by as much as four days.

Suddenly, a simple thing like going to a trade show became an endurance test.

The ban on air travel in the days following the eruption meant that travel plans had to be changed, then changed, then changed again.

There was the story of an American businessman, Miguel Rodriguez, from Kalamazoo, Mich., who had intended to fly via Detroit and Amsterdam.

But, when the flight out of Detroit was cancelled, he opted to fly via Miami and Madrid.

In Miami he found the Madrid flight was cancelled, but he was able to go instead to Valencia.

From there he took a bus to Barcelona, where he met a Spanish colleague.

They tried to catch a train for Munich, but the French rail system was down because of a strike.

So they set out by car, taking turns driving.

But, they ran into huge blockages on the highway as everyone in Europe, it seemed, was on the road.

They also got lost a couple of times because the GPS in the car didn’t have data for the area they were travelling through.

The Barcelona-Munich drive took them 26 hours, making the total trip from Detroit to Munich a three-day odyssey for Rodriguez.

He grabbed a quick shower and an hour’s sleep before heading to the Munich exhibition centre to help set up his company’s stand.

A pair of exhibitors coming from India spent three days at the New Delhi airport.

When partial service resumed, their flight to Munich wasn’t included, but they managed to get the last two seats on a plane to Vienna.

From there they took a taxi to Munich, 400 kilometres away.

Another Indian exhibitor had to take a flight from New Delhi to Istanbul, in Turkey. From there he managed a flight to Zurich, then took a train to Munich. His total travel time was 2.5 days.

Bauma organizers organized a fleet of seven buses to bring people from Turkey. They also arranged buses for a large group from China, who had been stranded during a plane change in Frankfurt.

Finally, by Saturday, the sixth day of the show, all the weary travellers were in town, and by mid-day, the showground was packed with people and equipment.

Then it was over, and Sunday, it was time to find a way to get home. And rest.

Korky Koroluk is a regular freelance contributor to the Journal of Commerce. Send comments or questions to editor@journalofcommerce.com

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