By Ben Perry – AFP. Airlines grounded as volcano ash spreads Passengers use any means to get home Weather service says ash could last all week.

MILLIONS of people face worsening travel chaos as a volcanic ash cloud from Iceland moves further south and east, forcing European countries to extend flight bans.

Iceland’s Eyjafjoell volcano erupted on Wednesday, sending ash drifting towards Europe at an altitude of about eight to 10 kilometres.

Europe’s three biggest airports – Heathrow, Paris-Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt – were closed. The ash cloud is now spreading towards Greece.

With flights grounded all over Europe, stranded holidaymakers and business travellers sought any means possible to get home – or contented themselves with just staying put.

An official for the Eurostar Channel tunnel rail service said thousands more passengers than normal were set to travel on its trains between London and continental Europe on Saturday.

British businessman Tom Noble said he had to buy a women’s bicycle to board a ferry home from France as the operator had no foot passenger tickets left and would only allow him on if he was a genuine cyclist.

Sky News reported comedian John Cleese paid £3000 for a taxi from Norway to Brussels so he could get the Eurostar home to England.

Airport closures
France has shut the three airports in the Paris area and others in the north of the country until 8am (4pm AEST) on Monday due to the ash cloud that has caused the biggest airspace shutdown since World War II.

Italy will not allow any flights in the north of the country until 6am (4pm AEST) Monday, while Britain, Ireland and Germany have shut their airspace until 12pm GMT (10pm AEST) Sunday.

British Airways has also cancelled all flights due to have arrived in and departed London today.

Other European nations also moved to extend their flight bans, including Austria to midnight GMT (10am AEST) today and Belgium to noon GMT (10pm AEST) tpday.

Poland says it’s shutting its airspace “until further notice”.

The closure of Poland’s airspace has stopped world leaders, including US President Barack Obama, from flying to the southern city of Krakow for Sunday’s funeral of president Lech Kaczynski and his wife Maria.

The Kaczynski couple were among 96 people, most of them Polish dignitaries, killed in a plane crash in Russia last Saturday on their way to a World War II memorial service.

About 17,000 flights in European airspace yesterday were cancelled due to the cloud of volcanic ash, said Eurocontrol, which coordinates air traffic control in 38 nations.

A normal Saturday would see 22,000 flights in Europe. Eurocontrol said only about 5000 were able to operate.

Out of 337 scheduled flights by US carriers to and from Europe, 282 were cancelled yesterda, according to the Air Transport Association.

The impact is likely to exceed the airspace shutdown after the September 11, 2001 attacks, the International Civil Aviation Organisation said.

Justifying the widespread airport closures, aviation officials have explained that aircraft engines could become clogged up and stop working if they tried to fly through the ash.

In the past 20 years, there have been 80 recorded encounters between aircraft and volcanic clouds, causing the near-loss of two Boeing 747s with almost 500 people on board and damage to 20 other planes, experts said.

Ash could stay all week
Winds blowing the massive cloud eastward from Iceland to Russia will continue in the same direction for at least two days and could go on until the middle of the week, the Icelandic Meteorological Office said today.

“The ash will continue to be directed towards Britain and Scandinavia,” Teitur Arason, a meteorologist at the Icelandic Meteorological Office said.

“That’s the general situation for the coming days… more or less for the next two days or maybe the next four or five days,” he said.

The volcanic ash cloud is heading towards Greece as it moves further south as well as east into Russia, Britain’s meteorological group the Met Office said.

Economic fallout huge
The International Air Transport Association meanwhile has warned of the economic fallout from the volcano eruption in southeast Iceland.

According to their figures it’s costing airlines more than $US200 million ($A214.04 million) a day.