Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

For Travel-Advice Firms, It's Always Something

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

For Travel-Advice Firms, It's Always Something

Article excerpt

Tourists may be largely on their own when volcanos or civil unrest disrupt their trips. Business travelers, though, often have back-office backup.

There is no place where there are no international travelers. So the routine at global travel-security and emergency-response companies that keep an eye on the world is never actually routine.

A few days ago, Alex Puig, a regional security director for the travel emergency company International SOS, was in his office in suburban Philadelphia, watching reports on a volcano that has been erupting in western Alaska. At the same time, he was also monitoring events in Turkey, where street confrontations escalated over the weekend.

Those were just two hot spots on a long list of troubles, mayhem, disease, natural disaster and other disruptions that hit like lightning strikes all over the world. They are monitored around the clock by companies like International SOS, which claims to have 70 percent of the Global Fortune 500 companies as clients, and competitors in the travel-alert and response business like iJet.

First, that pesky volcano, named Pavlof, in the western Aleutian archipelago. It began erupting in mid-May and on some days has belched ash 20,000 feet, or 6,100 meters, into the skies, forcing the cancellation of some regional flights. The question now is whether the eruptions at the volcano, one of Alaska's most active, might worsen and create a higher and wider ash cloud that could potentially disrupt hundreds of flights a day on the important travel and cargo routes between North America and Asia.

"The concern now is primarily over the effect that volcanic ash has had, and potentially again could have, on air traffic," said Mr. Puig, who is a former travel and cargo security executive with Target and a former agent in the clandestine services of the Central Intelligence Agency. "At the end of the day, let's assume that more ash clouds get spewed into the atmosphere, and now airlines are having to reroute and greatly reduce, or completely cancel, flights."

In its most recent update, on Sunday, the Alaska Volcano Observatory, a joint federal, state and university program, reported that seismic tremors on Pavlof had weakened. But it added, given the volatile nature of Pavlof, that "eruptive activity could increase again with little warning."

So while there is no immediate cause for alarm about air travel in the region, there is plenty of precedent for paying attention, not only for travelers but for those in corporate offices sending business travelers around the world. Those offices are responsible for not only responding properly to emergencies, but for anticipating them.

Lessons were learned after the calamitous effects on travel caused by the ash cloud that covered much of Western Europe when a volcano in Iceland erupted in the spring of 2010. …

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