This blog post is just to list links and tips on getting home to Finland.
First leg: getting to anywhere in Europe
Being stuck in San Fransisco, my first problem has been to get just anywhere closer to home. Taking a boat from America to Europe takes from 6-15 days and is not significantly cheaper than flying. So the best bet is just to fly to Europe.
The heuristics of how to get away from SF are similar to what I do in project or business management: Try to reduce your variables.Reduce the uncertainties. So for instance, I originally had a British Airways flight via Heathrow. Heathrow is close to the volcano and a big airport with many passengers. So the soonest they could reschedule me was for Apr 30, and even then the risk of a flight being canceled was big, and who knows how many weeks I then would have to wait. So I needed to look for alternatives. Flights to Europe cost 2000EUR nowadays, but otoh staying here for 3 weeks also costs 2000EUR, so it is still worth it to buy a new flight.
I should point out that a friend had great luck in persisting in calling the 1-800 number of his airline. They discourage you to do it, you have to wait an hour or two, but once he got through, a competent lady booked him on a 3 stop flight plan back to Germany the next morning! I then did the same for BA and was offered to fly home in May :-(
Russia is an interesting option in getting to Finland. Moscow and St Petersburg have been operating normally, and I can take a night train from there and be home without any hassle. Except I needed a visa to travel to Russia. I had already filled in the application form, but didn't actually go to the consulate. To apply for a visa you have to give away your passport for a few days. Seems like that would add to the uncertainty rather than help it. Without passport I'm 100% sure I cannot get home if there was an opportunity.
I did notice that Keflavik in Iceland was operating fine. But since Northern Europe has been affected by the ashcloud, it seemed like the odds of getting stuck there were just too high, and taking boats to Norway sounded like a bad idea. Turns out Bernhard had extreme luck with this choice though.
Eventually I bought a ticket via Mexico to Madrid. Price is 2000USD, so quite affordable. Madrid has been operating reliably so the odds of the flight being canceled are low. (But if it is, then I'm stuck in Mexico, so it is a bit of a gamble.) The flight time to Madrid is 28 hours, about 8 more than usually for Helsinki to SF.
From Madrid to Finland
Today I started looking into how to get home from Madrid to Helsinki.
The first solution is so obvious you might miss it: By a ticket to a regular Finnair flight. Chances are, they are allowed to fly on Saturday when I'm there. If not, I get my money back. It's like a free lottery ticket. The ticket is also fully refundable, so if I find something else between Saturday and Monday, I can go for it and be home faster.
I had asked my travel agent to do this, but they never got back to me. So just like with the Madrid flight, I bought a ticket online. I'm wondering why we even use a travel agency. They have not been very useful in this experience, usually they are 24 h behind what I already know. Buying from Finnair means I can pay online from my Finnish bank account, rather than spending more towards my credit card. Want to make sure my Visa is not blocked for overspending before I'm home!
If I can't fly, then I need to be more creative. I'm assuming trains will be full. For some reason my travel agent also is not able to book or buy train tickets.
However, thanks to the internet, there are many resources to go to:
Finnish Embassy in Madrid is well up to date. Situations like these is what they are there for!
Kaleva Travel has reacted quickly. They have a website where people can register and tell where you are, then they arrange buses to take people back to Finland. Excellent reactionary business instincts, and very helpful. However, the buses from Madrid will leave just before I arrive, so not so good odds for me to get another bus on Saturday.
Facebook has 2 great groups to check out:
There seems to be a lot of buses, minibuses or just "let's buy a car" type of groups self organizing. I'm pretty optimistic about this.
Since I got stuck with dozens of other European MySQL and Drupal people, just following each other on Twitter and exchanging ideas is also helpful. Also all airlines and airports have their own twitter accounts and I've found them to be great source of information.
(I will update this page with more useful info as I find it.)