Organisation - April 20, 2010

Flight ban affects tens of Wageningers

Jan Smit will graduate on Wednesday without his promoter. Aalt Dijkhuizen is stranded in Shanghai. The ash clouds from Iceland leave their traces in Wageningen. A round-up.

Aalt Dijkhuizen, chairman of the Executive Board, has been stuck in Shanghai since last Friday morning. He found himself stranded there on his return from New Zealand. Well taken care of, more or less, he mails from China. 'Thanks to the efforts of my secretary Denise Spiekerman. When she learnt on Thursday that flights to Europe had been cancelled, she immediately booked a hotel room for me. She had guessed accurately that rooms would be in great demand. I arrived in Shanghai in the morning when it was middle in the night for her. Nevertheless, she phoned KLM immediately to check on the situation. By chance, I met a professor from Maastricht here who said: I have a very good secretary, but she wouldn't go the extra mile for me at that time of night. Yours must be really special.'
Skype
Returning soon is not yet in sight, says Dijkhuizen. 'I currently have a confirmed seat for coming Friday and Saturday. But I'll believe it when I see it.' In the meantime, work goes on, come what may, by taking the rough with the smooth. Dijkhuizen mails, internets and skypes. 'My office in Wageningen has Skype facilities. I can take part in meetings as usual. While they sit in my office, I am in Shanghai. That works well.' But getting out and about would have to wait.  'For example, I was asked to open the VIV Europe exhibition in the Jaarbeurs in Utrecht on Tuesday and to chair the opening symposium. A couple of researchers and Minister Verburg would give speeches. I couldn't be there. I wonder how many exhibitors made it to the Netherlands and if there are many visitors.'
Dijkbuizen tries to make the best out of the situation. 'I don't let myself be edged out so easily. I'd weather through this as well. Moreover, there are people who are worse off because they don't have a room and have to remain in the airport, or they have small children with them, or are sick.' Then again, there are things to laugh about now and then. 'Like this entreaty from the BBC site to Iceland: Send cash, not ash. It sums up the situation very well for me.'
Without promoter
Dijkhuizen is by far not the only one who is stranded on his way home. ASG Director Martin Scholten reports that he is stuck in Moscow. He tried for three hours yesterday morning to get a visa, without success. Work in Beijing for education marketing officer Rien Bor is over, but he cannot make it back yet. Nearer home, the volcano also leaves many in a lurch. PhD candidate Jan Smit has to do without his promoter Pim Kooij at his thesis defence on Wednesday. Kooij (Rural History) is stuck in Portugal, reveals Doctorate Board spokesperson Dieuwke Alkema. Kooij will be replaced by a colleague. Other problems concerning graduations are manageable, says Alkema. 'Only six ceremonies have been planned up to the end of May. Two overseas examiners will be absent for a PhD defence this Friday because they wouldn't be able to reach Wageningen. But they too will have replacements.'
In addition, it is uncertain if Professor Remko Boom (Food Process Engineering) can be back on time for the thesis defence of Thanawit Kulrattanarak. Boom is now in the United States and has to be on the panel on 28 April. Will he make it? Alkema: 'We have spoken to someone who should have flown back last weekend from the U.S. This person could get a return flight only on 27 April. Everything is being postponed.'
Quick as a flash
Participants of an education seminar at the university were the first to be hit by the airspace closure last Thursday and Friday. 'We were having dinner in Hotel de Wereld on Thursday when the airspace was declared closed. We didn't want the atmosphere to be affected, but most of the people already knew the latest', relates Cecile Janssen of Communication Services. 'Several of them wanted to go home as soon as possible the following day. An English participant had already left quick as a flash during lunch, just in time to board the last available flight.'
However, not everyone had that kind of luck. Many guests had difficulty getting alternative transport on Friday. Trains were fully booked, no more hired cars were available, and even the ferries were full, adds colleague Hedy Wessels. By hook or by crook, some of them managed to get home. Janssen: 'A group had to return to Copenhagen and Stockholm. We finally managed to find a minibus taxi to take them to Hamburg, where they were picked up by someone who drove from Sweden to Germany. Another participant was picked up in Tilburg by a family member who drove from England via the tunnel. Yet another just made it to a train headed for Zurich. We were able to help about ten people on their way. Others found it fine to spend another day in Amsterdam.'
30 rooms cancelled
At the hotel Hof van Wageningen, the flight ban has also made its presence felt, and about 100 persons did not turn up. Generally, about three quarters of the guests at the former WICC come for meetings in Wageningen UR. Paul Mulder of the Hof says that four groups of 15 to 20 persons cancelled their meeting room bookings. Besides, at least 30 rooms have been cancelled because of the ash cloud. VCK Travel, the travel agency which makes business bookings for Wageningen UR, reveals that more than 150 trips have been cancelled.

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