When Dan Curtis stepped out of customs Wednesday afternoon and into McCarran International Airport, a wave of relief washed over his face.
The Las Vegan’s flight home from London was delayed a few days because of a volcanic ash cloud covering much of Europe. The cloud, formed by a volcano in Iceland, delayed flights and left thousands stranded around the globe without money and medication and cost the airline industry millions in grounded flights.
Curtis’ Virgin Atlantic flight touched down in Las Vegas shortly before 2 p.m. Wednesday.
"I just want to get back to work, my job and my house," said Curtis, who looked frazzled as he pushed a large cart full of luggage.
Phil and Kim Lauri of Los Angeles had the same sense of relief. They were visiting their daughter, who is studying in London. Their two-week visit was extended by six days because of the drifting ash cloud.
"We’re really excited to be back," Kim Lauri said.
She added that she failed to reach an airline representative to find out about rebooking flights as other stranded travelers also trying to get home jammed phone lines. The U.S. Embassy directed them to Travelocity’s website for updates, which Lauri said was not very helpful.
"We were calling Virgin Atlantic, and we couldn’t get through," she said. "That’s what we were upset about, not having that information."
The Lauris were concerned about the flight delay eating into vacation and sick time. They said they were fortunate to have access to plenty of money, and neither needed medication.
"We’re dipping into vacation time we didn’t really have in the first place," said Phil Lauri, adding that the London airport was eerily quiet.
Lines of weary British travelers waited for hours at McCarran, napping on their luggage or playing cards and trying to get on a stand-by list for flights home.
At one point, a shouting match broke out between an agitated man waiting in line and an unidentified British Airways representative. The argument was over getting on a stand-by list to get home — a frustrating example of miscommunication, several passengers murmured.
Claire Charlton, 30, befriended Zoe Dyer, 25, while waiting in line to get home a week ago. The two, along with their significant others, rallied together to find hotel and food vouchers, cheap groceries and a place to do laundry while they were stranded an extra seven days.
The group took a photo in front of the Mirage volcano with frowning faces and thumbs down to capture their incredible trip and make light of the situation.
"It’s a seven-day-long friendship so far," Dyer joked.
Dyer said she is a teacher who desperately needs to get back to her classroom and grade her students’ papers.
"They’ll never get them back on time now," she said. "And I’m missing a week’s worth of work, which means a week’s worth of pay."
All Charlton originally wanted to do was celebrate her 30th birthday in Las Vegas. Now she just wants to see her 3-year-old and 17-month-old children, who are a 10-hour flight away and staying with their grandmother.
"It’s been hard on me because I want to get back to my kids," she said. "They want to know when mommy and daddy are coming home, and we can’t tell them anything."
Both pairs were down to their last dimes April 14, when they were expecting to go home. But the volcanic ash cloud forced them to spend at least $600 to $700 over budget for accommodations per couple. Charlton said her dad had to put extra money in her bank account.
After four days of wearing dirty clothes and living out of suitcases, the group was finally able to do laundry.
Charlton and Dyer said they plan to keep all receipts and fill out claim forms with the airlines and travel insurance companies to be reimbursed as much as possible.
British Honorary Consulate officials in Las Vegas say that at least 1,000 British travelers were stranded in the valley.
"There’s been a lot of tears for me," Charlton said. "Our 3-year-old sat up waiting for us one night. I just want to go home."
Contact Kristi Jourdan at email@example.com or 702-383-0279.Hundreds wait in line to board flights to London