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#getmehome: Social media and stranded travellers

Rory Cellan-Jones | 17:37 UK time, Sunday, 18 April 2010

If the volcanic ash from Iceland had made its way across Europe five years ago, its effects would have been even more distressing for the thousands of people stranded far from home. Why? Because five years ago most people did not have access to the social-networking services which are helping some stranded travellers make their way home.

A stranded passenger uses a PC at New Tokyo International AirportFor the last few days, I've been getting messages from friends and acquaintances stuck in various parts of the world. A BBC colleague is marooned in Portugal; a journalist friend is trying to get home from Milan; another is stranded in Helsinki and a software developer is in New York, working out whether he can get home on a container ship. Five years ago they would have been individuals, texting and calling friends at home, but struggling to find others in the same predicament to pool resources.

But now they and many others have turned to the social networks to talk about their frustrations and then in many cases to act together to organise inventive ways of getting home. A Facebook group called Carpool Europe has been set up by the Swedish car-pool movement, and has lots of messages offering or seeking the chance to hitch a ride. The group appears mainly populated by Swedes, but another, called When Volcanoes Erupt, is also acting as a clearing house for travellers trying to get on the move, and there are focused communities like BBC Orkney's Facebook wall; you can listen to the experience of one Radio Orkney listener trapped in Venice at the iPlayer. Other Facebook members are using the service in a less co-ordinated way to seek help from friends.

getmehomeNow, I know how much some of you hate the use of the "T"-word - but there's no getting away from it. Yet again, Twitter is proving the fastest way of starting a movement, or rather two movements. First there's the #getmehome hashtag, then there's #putmeup, which is being used to put stranded travellers in touch with kind souls offering accommodation.

So here are a few of the messages I've spotted:

@hubmum: "Need to get back to UK from Morocco. Anyone else up for organising overland/sea trip back?"
@timlocke73 "Two of us stranded in Berlin. Anyone driving towards England who can offer a lift in the nxt week"
@romebuongiorno: "I am in need of a Paris to Rome or Milano car share"
@damoski "I might be booking a car from Civitavecchia via Pisa/Genova/Milan to Paris on 21/4 afternoon/evening - any sharers?"
@gavinmcgarry: "Any1 want 2 go w/ me by taxi Nice to Barcelona call me now"

There have already been all sorts of inspiring stories. I've followed the progress of the Dragon's Den contributor Duncan Bannatyne, up France and to Calais where he offered lifts via Twitter:

"OK we can take 4 on the 3.40 ferry"
"We have 2 spare seats in car where are you?"
"Tweet me a phone number"
"We are at front of passport control black Mercedes Van"

Meanwhile, historian Dan Snow tried to organise what has been floridly described as a Dunkirk-style rescue of stranded travellers, though that has apparently been halted by officials?. And not everyone was convinced that the likes of Twitter did anything more than cheer them up - the economist Tim Harford, currently making his way across Europe from Helsinki, told me: "Twitter was no help at all, unless it's the thought that counts. Email and internet was vital."

But others have found the social-networking services a useful way to get their message out loud and clear to airlines, car-hire companies and governments about the urgency of sorting out the mess. I've seen one message to a car-hire firm begging them to be reasonable about a £5,000 charge for bringing a car back to Britain - unfortunately the company in question only appears to use its Twitter account every couple of weeks to send out advertising messages, rather than to deal directly with customers.

And, finally, does this message I found on a social network tell us about our changing attitudes to those in power?

"Yes, people helping each other instead of calling the state or companies... it's great! ;)"

Perhaps. But already the politicians are under pressure to do something - send ships, force open Europe's airspace, prop up failing airlines. People have turned to new ways of organising themselves, but they're still looking to the state in a time of crisis.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    People have turned to new ways of organising themselves, but they're still looking to the state in a time of crisis.

    And the state will respond. With the speed and precision of a Cobra. Eventually.

  • Comment number 2.

    Stranded travelers can also find hosts on Tripping, a hospitality network where travelers meet locals. It's completely free and a good alternative to overflowing airports & overbooked hotels:

    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]
    Tripping hosts have been inviting stranded travelers into their homes all weekend. Their generosity inspires us and will hopefully help some of your readers as well.

    - Jen

  • Comment number 3.

    By the time COBRA has stumbled into action, most people (who really want too) will have managed to get home
    under their own steam. Too much red tape for any government systems robe of any immediate use.

  • Comment number 4.

    I've got family stuck in Europe & Thailand - I am keeping family & friends up to date with travel developments on a facebook group - Volcano Ash Cloud - I've got family stuck abroad!
    http://bit.ly/aLr472
    (I'm not sure if links like this can be posted but if readers might interested in following this group)

  • Comment number 5.

    It is certainly fascinating to see how social media is helping to achieve some very positive outcomes for travellers in distress.

  • Comment number 6.

    Social media has changed the way the world is working. It's a shame no one tweeting that the volcano cloud was on it's way - the government could have made some contingency plans - or did they know and do nothing!

  • Comment number 7.

    Having just made the journey back from Venice via all sorts of places, it is remarkable how useless Twitter has actually been. There are basically 3-4 original pieces of information endlessly being retweeted. When you look at the various hashtags for places to stay or the like they are very sparse and certainly there is a massive mismatch between how many would need them vs how many are tweeting about them. Twitter I am sure has been wonderful when you want the whole world to quickly find out that the volcano has erupted, but as far as coordinating rides, places to stay etc - very poor. Social media is failing to make much of an impact on this crisis, other than telling your story on facebook after the fact - which doesn't help if you are stuck somewhere.

  • Comment number 8.

    The "new" media channels are proving themselves as being more reliable than the traditional ones in this event... Because people are able to provide an empirical statement of what "works" and what doesn't. My wife and colleagues had their flight home from Stockholm canceled on Friday afternoon and elected to head directly for Calais by hire car despite the dire warnings (on the BBC TV and web amongst others) that people wouldn't be able to book crossings on the ferries until Monday at the earliest. On arriving at Calais on Saturday lunchtime they were put directly on the next crossing and were then home a few hours later. Had they relied on the "official" message they would probably still be sitting in Sweden under the misapprehension, like Dan Snow, that people needed to be "rescued from the beaches".

  • Comment number 9.

    I should think facebook and other social media would be the last place people should look for travel advice. Google and other search engines is where I'd turn for information - I know someone stuck in Turkey and a simple search for "trains from turkey to UK" found the necessary information to him to get home.

    Simples.

  • Comment number 10.

    Hi,

    Myself and another colleague created the Facebook fan page "The Volcanic Ash Cloud" last Thursday morning, and the page has now got just under 6000 followers. Lot's of people are posting helpful advice, and the spirit on the group is great. People are posting relevant links to car sharing sites, train networks, and altogether offering support and advice to others.

    http://www.facebook.com/VolcanicAshCloud

    In the face of adversity, social media is proving brilliant in offering real solutions, and very quickly.

  • Comment number 11.

    Why aren't we considering mobilising all the private planes and pilots that exist in the UK? These planes can fly as they operate well below the ash level. The weather is great for flying at the moment and there are airfields all over the UK. Aren't we missing a trick here as a nation?

  • Comment number 12.

    The reason we can't 'mobilise private planes' are that:
    - most are probably slower than trains... The plane I fly has a cruising speed of around 90 knots (103mph)

    - they can typically only carry 2 or 3 passengers (less if luggage is involved)

    - They're not cheap to run (a 2000 mile round trip would cost over £600 in fuel, never mind the extra servicing etc which would be necessary)

    - The flight to, say, Spain would take 7-10 flying hours - which would be a couple of days including rest breaks (there's usually no co-pilot to take over). And then there's the flight back again. Pilots will have to take time off work for this time

    - Who is going to pay for the flight down & landing fees, and accommodation? There can be cost sharing when the passengers are in the plane (the pilot would still need to pay their own share), but you're on dodgy legal ground if you charge extra for the cost of the flight down for private pilots who can't take payment for their services.

    - There's loads of paperwork to fill in for flights overseas.

    - Most private planes won't have the necessary safety equipment for flights over water, so this would need to be purchased. Who would pay?

    - Instrument flights aren't currently allowed (and many private pilots can't fly on instruments anyway), so you have to rely on flying VFR (visual flight rules) which means you need good weather for the whole trip (and the trip back). What happens when 200 pilots have flown to Spain, and then the weather changes, and they can't get back again...

    etc etc

  • Comment number 13.

    Hi i need to get back to india ASAP ? I am stranded in London ?
    Any innovative ideas to get back ?Please help .

  • Comment number 14.

    I think that this is a great e-mail. I really do agree with this. Some good friends of mine have been trying to get back from Venice and have been keeping in contacted with me and others about different options on Facebook. They are also a member of a forum at http://www.cruises.co.uk/ and have been talking to people everyday about the latest developments and what they advice they ahve to offer. It has helped my two good friends in this situation to keep in contact with everyone and hopefully it will help many other people.

  • Comment number 15.

    twitter ridesharing service: post trips as a tweet in below format and they become searchable on lite.geogoer.com

    Amsterdam > barcelona / can drive looking for a lift @gglite

    Must use symbols > / @gglite

    more description is on blog.geogoer.com

  • Comment number 16.

    Also there's the site mentioned in The Guardian: http://volcanohelp.eu/. No ads or anything. Just people helping eachother out with rides, drivers etc!

  • Comment number 17.

    Twitter has also thrown up some very popular volcano related stuff.

    There's one that seems to be posting constant volcano activity as a solution to the Co2 from planes, which rather ignores the other stuff belching out.

    Here's another, which may help inform, or confuse further...

    http://www.treehugger.com/files/2010/04/climate-impact-of-iceland-volcano.php

    Either way, par the course.

  • Comment number 18.

    http://www.couchsurfing.org/ met a few people who are involved with this in manchetster a while back. Would be well suited for students etc needing a place to stay. It's a community of people putting up people at their houses all over the world.

    Good luck guys, I'm hoping my mate can get back from Barcelona soon and family coming from australia!!

    Jess

  • Comment number 19.

    5. At 11:38am on 19 Apr 2010, x333xxx wrote:
    It is certainly fascinating to see how social media is helping to achieve some very positive outcomes for travellers in distress.

    My reply:
    Not it isn't. Social media is just a communications tool - much like e-mail, telephones and television. So it's not the slightest bit surprising that people are using Twitter and Facebook to organise themselves. In fact, it's a bit like saying "oh my God, everyone is using mobiles rather than BT phone boxes".

    I really do wish Rory would post some technology on his technology blogs rather than regurgitating tweets and their related statistics. I mean, if I really cared that much about "Twitter Chatter" then I could log on to Twitter and find the same information out for myself in the same time as it would take to read this blog.


    So come on Rory, please please please /PLEASE/ drop your love affair with social networks once in a while.

  • Comment number 20.

    There is also a facebook page for those stranded by the ashcloud http://tinyurl.com/y29v8ue

  • Comment number 21.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 22.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 23.

    Maybe we could drop Gordon Brown in Iceland. His hot air might reverse the direction of the cloud and free up our airspace.

  • Comment number 24.

    It would be extremely interesting to find out how much mobile operators make in extra roaming income during this disaster!

    Social networking, Google Maps, travel & hotel planning - data usage may be included in the home mobile package, but I don't believe anyone offers this abroad!

    I am sure some people have incurred data roaming charges in the £100s!!!

  • Comment number 25.

    As someone marooned in the United States waiting for a flight back to the UK due to the by now very infamous cloud of volcanic ash, I’ve been able to experience first-hand how people are using social media.

    One of the things that struck me in the midst of all this, is the potential for the travel and tourism sector to start using tools such as Twitter to monitor and – more importantly – respond to requests for information and appeals for help. @BritishAbroad – The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has been reaching out to stranded expatriates with Tweets like:

    “If you're stranded abroad & running out of medication, check local pharmacies or go to local hospital or doctor - http://ow.ly/1Aecx #ashtag”
    And, “The FCO advice line for those stranded overseas is [Personal details removed by Moderator]- more details http://ow.ly/1A891 #ashtag”

    Although not at this scale, we’ve seen this at many times with ExactTarget and CoTweet customers that are transforming the power of online customer service into world-class marketing. You need look no further than @Dell @JetBlue or @Microsoft to see how the power of real-time conversations on Twitter is changing business forever.

  • Comment number 26.

    Now, I know how much some of you hate the use of the "T"-word

    The T word? Well it's not Technology. That seems to have died a death on the so called Technology blog.

  • Comment number 27.

    I personally don't user Facebook or Twitter for psychological reasons. I have about 10 people I sometimes chat with in Skype and two other communication tools and that's enough for me. If I was to join yet another social network, sorry, "I'm not at home".

    I can agree however the tools we use today do change the way we live. I'm an ex-pat living in the UK and I can be in touch with my family and friends. I think the power of the social media networks is unbelievable, but has both a positive as well as a negative impact.
    Whenever I become on-line and I want to chat to one person for 5 minutes I end up answering to people I don't feel like talking just the same day. Just to be polite and then I end up talking for too long and have to apologise I don't feel like talking. I sometimes need to switch myself off and some people think I am rude and people don't understand what privacy means.

    Just yesterday I had a chat with one of my friends who joined Facebook and in a matter of days (she is a lady) she had about 200 people with whom she got connected to not knowing who they are. She said if she was willing to talk to 10% of them, that would've been too much. So what's the point after all?

    Unless people want to cry for help...

    People get addicted to a point when they talk at work about what's on Facebook since they cannot get connected because company policies do not allow that. And instead of working talk all day long...

    To me social media networks have a role to play, but also damage people's ability to communicate in the real life, disconnect them from what really life is all about, what's important and how to live a good life and maintain a healthy balance.

    Just my few comments....

  • Comment number 28.

    Just to add, I think social media networks have one big advantage though, allow people to spread news without censorship (at least in the UK :-D). They became the true independent way to create and spread news especially in countries where people are suppressed but their governments. Freedom of speech is what people need to express their views and anger. In many cases newspapers and web news services are not up to the task, are corrupt and under the influence of power groups.
    For that reason I would give the creators of Twitter the Nobel peace prize.

  • Comment number 29.

    6. At 11:58am on 19 Apr 2010, Jason Rudland wrote:
    "the government could have made some contingency plans - or did they know and do nothing!"
    They waited, waited, waited and now Gordon Brown is coming to the rescue... This was deliberate, just before the election, as he's still in power.
    You see? It doesn't matter whether over the past 12 years he managed to drown the best UK pension system.

  • Comment number 30.

    24. At 4:48pm on 19 Apr 2010, Brian Merritt wrote:

    It would be extremely interesting to find out how much mobile operators make in extra roaming income during this disaster!

    Social networking, Google Maps, travel & hotel planning - data usage may be included in the home mobile package, but I don't believe anyone offers this abroad!

    I am sure some people have incurred data roaming charges in the £100s!!!


    My Reply:
    Assuming for one moment that their hotel doesn't offer WiFi (most I've stopped in have offered it for free), there's still internet cafes, coffee shops with WiFi, or even friends / relatives if they're visiting distant associates.

    It's really not that hard to stay connected in this day and age - even without 3G roaming.

  • Comment number 31.

    Hi, I'm stuck in Hong Kong. Cathay Pacific put me on a flight from Melbourne (Aust) knowing full well that my connecting flight was cancelled indefinitely. They didn't give me the option of staying with family in Melbourne. I have asked Cathay if they can return me to Melbourne to be with my family, as they should have given me the option to stay in Melbourne, but they said that it would cost 1,500+ GBP for an open return. They refused to pay for it.

    Really lonely in Hong Kong, by myself. If there is any Brit trying to get back to London and would like to meet up, please feel free to reply. I am booked on a flight to Heathrow for Friday 9.40am. I really hope it flies/goes, as I'm a teacher and should be at school now. I have classes sitting GCSEs and A levels in a few weeks..dire for them.

  • Comment number 32.

    Help each other as long as the flight ban remains! There is a Carpool website during the flight restrictions, where you can find free cars. Registration is not needed.

    http://ajanlomneked.webege.com/english/content/carpool-search-during-iceland-volcanic-ash-flightban-europe


  • Comment number 33.

    If you would like to hear the BBC Radio Orkney interview referred to by Rory as being here http://www.bbc.co.uk/radioscotland/news/orkney/index.shtml (the interview is about 8 or 9 minutes into the programme, and is WELL worth listening to!) you will need to be VERY quick. Now that Radio Orkney's 30 minute morning news program is over for today at 8am, yesterday's (including the interview Rory refers to) will be overwritten with today's program. As this is a technology blog, can I ask why the BBC cannot arrange for a program serving a "focused community" of 40,000 people to be available for 7 days, and to have a place within the main iPlayer infrastructure, rather than hidden on a site clearly designed to hold 2 or 3 minute news summaries, rather than 30 minute magazine programmes?

  • Comment number 34.

    19. At 2:15pm on 19 Apr 2010, Laumars wrote:
    5. At 11:38am on 19 Apr 2010, x333xxx wrote:
    It is certainly fascinating to see how social media is helping to achieve some very positive outcomes for travellers in distress.

    My reply:
    Not it isn't. Social media is just a communications tool - much like e-mail, telephones and television.

    X333XXX: Isn't that rather the point Laumars? Social media is the great enabler, it enables disparate individuals or bodies to communicate with each other in a new, previously unheard of, way. Social media has enabled someone in Orkney to ask for assistance (suggestions) on how to get someone home from Switzerland. Thanks to social media a flood of suggestions were made, feasibility was assessed and an action plan put into effect, with a positive outcome for the individual concerned (ie to get home in time to sit an examination).

    Social media can be whatever you want it to be, either a method of basic communication, or to play games online with friends both those you've met and new friends you've never seen in the flesh. We each use it in a way that suits our needs or aspirations. Personally I avoid the silly games and applications that Facebook throws at me periodically, to keep in touch with a wide variety of friends both close and far. Twitter is great for crowdsourcing. But with both what you get out of them will depend very much on what you contribute yourself.

  • Comment number 35.

    I find it refreshing that people are still capable of altruism and cooperation. And that, far from isolating us all from the real world, social networking CAN be used to bring people together.

    "There is no Society" ...?

    Pah!!!

  • Comment number 36.

    34. At 08:31am on 20 Apr 2010, x333xxx wrote:
    Isn't that rather the point Laumars?


    My reply:
    No. My point is that this is nothing new. It's existed for decades in a variety of formats from telegrams to text messages. So it seems a complete waste, flooding a high profile technology blog with the damned obvious.

    Maybe I'm getting old, but I remember when the BBC News was internationally respected. These days it seems to be dumbing down for the masses.

  • Comment number 37.

    BBC Radion Orkney 's Facebook has lots of reaction on page to the Scottish Government decision to send Orkney's lifeline ferry to Bergen on rescue mission:

    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Kirkwall-United-Kingdom/BBC-Radio-Orkney/31395967167

    Or search for "BBC Radio Orkney" in Facebook

  • Comment number 38.

    I'd like to know why labour fat cats and other so called people representatives get to wine and dine at the taxpayers expense yet the real people who support educate and represent our nations children in our schools are having their wages docked while they are uncontrollably stranded abroad

  • Comment number 39.

    SHAME ON YOU! To all the hotels and transport companies out there who ramped their prices in a disgraceful and shameless exploitation of their customers LUXE says this... http://www.luxetasy.com/

  • Comment number 40.

    Its great to see the travel community coming together using all these different online platforms to help each other to get home, or whereever else they might be going. Pretty inspiring really?

    Only thing thats annoyed me throughout all these flight delays is using the Navy to get people home?! Christ - we're such charity cases. I can only imagine how much its costing the tax payer.

  • Comment number 41.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 42.

    "Stranded travelers can also find hosts ... where travelers meet locals. It's completely free and a good alternative to overflowing airports & overbooked hotels:

    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]"

    Fair enough of the mods to remove this link - all advertising should be removed - so why are you (BBC) still plugging Twitter for doing (in this case) precisely the same thing? I'm not being rhetorical here - I actually want an answer since I pay a licence fee!

  • Comment number 43.

    Hi, I'm stuck in Hong Kong. Cathay Pacific put me on a flight from Melbourne (Aust) knowing full well that my connecting flight was cancelled indefinitely. They didn't give me the option of staying with family in Melbourne.......... I have asked Cathay if they can return me to Melbourne to be with my family, as they should have given me the option to stay in Melbourne, but they said that it would cost 1,500+ GBP for an open return. They refused to pay for it.

  • Comment number 44.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 45.

    And the state will respond. With the speed and precision of a Cobra. Eventually.

  • Comment number 46.

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  • Comment number 47.

    Laumars #36.

    "Maybe I'm getting old, but I remember when the BBC News was internationally respected. These days it seems to be dumbing down for the masses."

    perhaps less to do with your age, and more with the BBC reflecting the 'new' values, ie the reality of a free for all aprés moi le déluge.

  • Comment number 48.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 49.

    An interesting article from gigaom.com tells how people have used Facebook and Twitter to try to source hotel rooms or alternative forms of transport. Travellers have requested rooms for the night via Twitter or Facebook whilst other kind people have offered accommodation. Other social tools used have been a Roadsharing site, while some have kept people entertained with their blogs about the situations.

    Meanwhile a Twitter account was set up specifically for the ash cloud and now has over 2,000 followers already. It seems as though out of every bad situation a glimmer of good can be found with some people extolling the virtues of air traffic free skies.Thanks.
    http://directory2009.com/

  • Comment number 50.

    They didn't give me the option of staying with family in Jakarta. I have asked Cathay if they can return me to surabaya to be with my family, as they should have given me the option to stay in Melbourne, but they said that it would cost 1,500+ GBP for an open return.

  • Comment number 51.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

 

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