Clouds of ash from an erupted Icelandic volcano drifted to parts of Europe on Thursday, forcing air-traffic controllers to close airspace to commercial aircraft and compelling airlines to cancel thousands of flights until Friday morning at the earliest.

Airspace in the U.K., Ireland, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland was affected, and the havoc threatened to spread further with Germany also reviewing the situation as the clouds were sent south by the prevailing winds. In London, Britain’s air traffic service extended the ban on most air traffic in England until 1 p.m. London time (8 a.m. Eastern time) Friday, but flights to Scotland and Northern Ireland may be allowed to resume earlier, the Associated Press reported.

Airlines across the world were hit by the disruptions, with Eurocontrol, a 38-country agency in Brussels that coordinates European flights, saying that roughly 3,000 of Europe’s 28,000 daily flights had been grounded. Trans-Atlantic flights between Europe and North America, which usually travel close to Iceland because jet-stream paths boost fuel economy, were disrupted, although some flights had been routed south to avoid the ash clouds.

Continental Airlines Inc. cancelled its morning departure from New York to London, though most of its evening flights to Europe remained on the schedule. UAL Corp.’s United Airlines cancelled its morning and evening flights from Washington to London, while Delta Air Lines Inc. cancelled its evening departure from New York to London.

FedEx Corp. said it hadn’t cancelled any flights, though some services had been diverted, forcing the shipper to truck packages to their final destinations.

Hundreds of thousands of travelers were likely to be impacted. In Ireland alone, about 60,000 passengers may be affected, the Dublin Airport Authority said. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had to postpone a trip from Moscow to Russia’s far northern region of Murmansk Thursday due to the ash cloud.


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