Europe's busiest airport reopened Tuesday as air traffic across the continent lurched back to life. But the gridlock created by Iceland's volcanic ash plume was far from over: Officials said it would be weeks before all stranded travellers could be brought home.
Passengers wept with relief as flights took off from Paris's Charles de Gaulle Airport, Amsterdam and elsewhere. A jetliner from Vancouver, British Columbia, was the first to land at London's Heathrow airport, the continent's busiest, since the volcano erupted last week.
British Airways said it expected about two dozen flights from the United States, Africa and Asia to land by early today. Travellers cheered as the first European flights took off.
Jenny Lynn Cohen, waiting at Charles de Gaulle to travel to San Francisco, had a boarding pass but could hardly believe she was going to fly.
"I am a little afraid - I am hopeful the plane will take off, and that it won't meet with any volcanic ash," she said.
Chris James, arriving at Heathrow from Mauritius, told the British Broadcasting Corp. that passengers on his flight didn't know they would land in London until 45 minutes before their plane touched down.
"Initially it was quite a stressful situation, we didn't know what was happening," James said.
The Eurocontrol air traffic agency said it expected just under half of the 27,500 flights over Europe to go ahead Tuesday, a marked improvement over the last few days. The agency predicted close to normal takeoffs by Friday.
It was the first day since the April 14 eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull (ay-yah-FYAH-lah-yer-kuhl) volcano - dormant for nearly 200 years - that travellers were given a reason for hope.
"The situation today is much improved," said Brian Flynn, deputy head of operations at the Brussels-based agency.
Conditions changed fast. Airspace in Germany remained officially closed, but about 800 flights were allowed at low altitude.
Rita and Peter Meyer said they had to share a hotel room with two strangers in Singapore while waiting to find a way home to Germany. News that they could fly to Frankfurt airport came as they slept.