Local News

Roundabout journey brings Chapel Hill man home

Posted April 22, 2010 5:38 p.m. EDT
Updated April 22, 2010 6:48 p.m. EDT

— Area travelers began returning home Thursday after being stranded in Europe for a week by the plume of volcanic ash that shut down airports across much of the continent.

American Airlines' daily flight from London's Heathrow Airport landed at Raleigh-Durham International Airport Thursday evening, bringing dozens of weary passengers back to the Triangle.

“Everybody was worried and couldn’t wait for us to be back. It’s good to be home,” flight attendant Nancy Stoneman said.

Dr. Karl Smith was on Stoneman’s flight. The Raleigh dentist was stuck in London for an extra week.

“I had to call in a replacement to fill in for me for the week. So, it made it a two-week vacation instead of one,” he said.

Not all local residents had such a direct route home, however.

Ryan Allis landed at RDU just before 1 p.m. Thursday after a 96-hour journey through four countries.

"Between trains and buses and taxis and airplanes, it's been four days of getting home," Allis said.

The founder and chief executive of Durham-based e-mail marketing company iContact, he was in Oxford, England, for a forum on social entrepreneurship. When the forum ended last week, he headed to London to catch a Sunday flight home – or so he thought.

"Every 12 hours, they would update us, and every 12 hours, we would be disappointed that the airspace in much of northern Europe and the entirety of the U.K. was closed," he said.

Allis waited in London as Sunday turned to Monday, but when Monday turned to Tuesday and flights were still grounded, he decided to find another way home.

"Get home, get home. I have to go to work. I have to see my wonderful girlfriend," he recalls thinking.

His girlfriend, Jessica Shorland, said she would get regular text message updates from him.

"(He would) be like, 'OK, the airport is supposed to be opening tomorrow.' (The next day,) we'd talk, and 'OK, the airport is supposed to be opening tomorrow,'" Shorland said.

Finally, Allis hopped on a train to Paris, where he was able to find a flight to the Dominican Republic. From there, he caught a flight to Miami and then another to RDU.

"I'm excited to be home," he said, giving Shorland some flowers and a kiss.

"(I'm) so glad, so happy," she said with a laugh.

Allis said he made some very good friends while stranded in London. One had already missed three days of a vacation in Cancun, Mexico, and he said he hopes the man made it to Mexico in time to enjoy some down time.

"At times there were some frustrations, but generally, it was a wonderful adventure," Allis said.