Friday: Europe’s Travel Delays Worsen; Same-sex Partners Get Hospital Rights

BY jbreslow  April 16, 2010 at 9:27 AM EST

woman at airport

A woman at Erfurt Airport in Germany reads about the volcano that is disrupting travel across Europe. (Photo by Jens-Ulrich Koch/AFP/Getty Images.)

The wide-scale disruption of air travel across much of Europe only got worse on Friday as the massive cloud of volcanic ash from Iceland spread further across the continent, grounding more flights and leaving millions of travelers across the globe stranded or delayed.

Nine European countries have closed their airspaces out of precaution for the catastrophic damage that ash particles from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano could cause for a jet engine. (In 1982, FlightBlogger recounts, a British Airways flight lost all four engines after flying through a volcanic cloud over Jakarta.)

Eurocontrol, Europe’s air traffic agency, said about 60 percent of the roughly 28,000 flights that take place on a normal day would not operate Friday. Officials also said normal flight schedules would not resume until Saturday at the earliest.

The New York Times is tracking cancellations from the ash cloud here.

Amazingly enough, while air travel is paralyzed across much of Europe, the airport in Iceland’s capital of Reykjavik remains open to flights from North America. As Hjordis Gudmondsdottir of the country’s air traffic authority explained to the London Evening Standard: “The ash is going out to the ocean and to Europe so our airports aren’t really affected. It’s almost funny, except it isn’t, obviously.”

No one knows for sure just how long Europe’s flight grid will be affected. As NPR reports, “Forecasters can do a good job of anticipating where the ash cloud from Iceland’s spewing volcano is likely to spread in the coming days, but scientists can’t tell how long the eruption could last.”

What is certain, however, is that the longer the flight grid remains down, the worse it will be for global trade, says the Wall Street Journal.

According to the Economist, the Eyjafjallajokull eruption caught most watchers by surprise. The odds of the volcano blowing its lid had been 28-1, far higher than the odds on other volcanoes around the world.

Obama Extends Hospital Rights to Same-sex Partners

President Barack Obama on Thursday ordered the Department of Health and Human Services to issue rules that for the first time would require most hospitals to grant visiting rights to same-sex partners. The order will allow gay men and lesbians to make medical decisions on behalf of their partners at any hospital that receives funding from Medicare or Medicaid.

“[U]niquely affected are gay and lesbian Americans who are often barred from the bedsides of the partners with whom they may have spent decades of their lives — unable to be there for the person they love, and unable to act as a legal surrogate if their partner is incapacitated,” the president wrote in a memo that was e-mailed to reporters Thursday night while he was at a fundraiser in Miami.

“Obama’s mandate is the latest attempt by his administration to advance the agenda of a constituency that strongly supported his presidential campaign,” reports the Washington Post. “In his first 15 months in office, he has hailed the passage of hate crime legislation and held the first Gay Pride Day celebration at the White House. Last month, Obama’s top military and defense officials testified before Congress in favor of repealing of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy for gays in the armed forces.”

Confirmation Battle Looms for Appeals Court Nominee

With the nation still waiting to see whom President Obama will pick to succeed retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday will hold on a confirmation hearing on what may be the president’s most controversial judicial nominee to date: Goodwin Liu, associate dean at Berkeley Law.

Liu is under consideration for a seat on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals based in California. “Liberal stalwarts” have applauded the Liu nomination, reports NPR’s Nina Totenberg, while “Republicans see his youth, brilliance and personal story as qualities that might make him a Supreme Court nominee in the future. And his lengthy paper trail has galvanized conservative opposition to his nomination.”

Thai Opposition Leaders Elude Capture

Leaders from the Red Shirt movement in Thailand eluded capture by security forces on Friday, dramatically escaping by rope from a third-story hotel balcony in Bangkok. The raid was the first major action by the Thai government against the protesters — who are demanding new elections — since last weekend’s failed attempt to disperse rallies in which 24 people died.

Virginia Tech Commemorates 3rd Anniversary of Shooting

Students and faculty at Virginia Tech University are commemorating the third anniversary of the campus shooting that left 32 people dead. The last two survivors of the attack will graduate in May, and this may be the final year the university cancels classes on the anniversary, notes the Roanoke Times.