Stranded travelers return to Triangle

RALEIGH The first flight from the United Kingdom landed just before 4 p.m. Thursday at the Raleigh Durham International Airport.

For the first time in eight days American Airlines flight 173 was able to fly out of London.

The airplane was stuck on the ground at London's Heathrow Airport after authorities closed airspace across Europe, because of the ash cloud from a volcano in Iceland.

On Thursday, 183 people were on board the flight. Many of them had been stranded in the UK waiting for the daily non-stops flights between RDU and London to resume.

Crew members were also desperate to come home, after being stranded for almost two weeks.

American Airlines flight attendant Nancy Stoneman was in London for 12 days, the longest stretch she's been stuck during her 32 year career.

"I've been stranded, but not for 12 days," Stoneman said. "It was very surreal. Every day just waiting and wondering if you're going to be back."

Flight attendant Ellen Poole says she knows what's it's like to be stuck abroad. She was stranded in London, right after Sept. 11. Poole says she remembers how people were waiting for her at RDU back then, so Thursday she thought she would return the favor.

"Even though this might not be quite as an emotional homecoming, it'll be nice to see some friendly faces after being gone for so long," Poole said. "I'm just glad that they're safe and that nobody got hurt. Everybody gets to come home and see their family; you can't get any better than that."

Hours later the same plane turned around and returned to London with a full load of passengers. Many of them had been stuck in the Triangle and said they were excited to be going back home.

The airline industry is furious about the closure of airspace. They say European authorities over-reacted and it cost airlines $1.7 billion.

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