PSU’s Ireland opener in jeopardy

Of all the unusual things that can impact travel or a sporting event, a volcano erupting in Iceland wouldn’t come to mind for most people.

However, Penn State football fans flying to next week’s season opener in Ireland will have to do some volcano watching between now and then to make sure their travel plans won’t be interrupted.

There’s even a chance the volcano could threaten the Aug. 30 game itself if the Penn State or Central Florida football teams have travel problems.

A large volcano in Iceland called Bardarbunga could erupt any day now, scientists believe, sending volcanic ash into the sky around Europe. When that happened to an Icelandic volcano in 2010, millions of air passengers were stranded throughout Europe for several days because the ash was deemed harmful to jet engines.

Since that eruption, airlines have adjusted their policies with regards to volcanic ash, so widespread airport shutdowns are not as likely. But they are still possible.

“It’s very unusual,” Duane Bordell of Heritage Travel in Altoona said Wednesday night when discussing the volcano scenario.

Bordell has organized a group of 87 people traveling to Ireland for the game, including 34 from Blair County. The only other incident he could recall of a volcano disrupting travel during his tourism career was Washington’s Mount St. Helens in 1980.

“That threw a monkey wrench into air travel in that part of the country,” Bordell said.

The same could happen if Bardarbunga erupts, and there has been enough seismic activity in recent days suggesting that possibility. There have been nearly 3,000 minor earthquakes around the mountain since Saturday.

Iceland has upgraded to an “orange” alert, meaning an eruption could be imminent, and it has evacuated certain areas around the mountain. Officials from Penn State and Central Florida are keeping a close eye on the volcano issue.

“We’re monitoring that situation,” said Michael Hazel, PSU’s director of football operations. “That’s kind of out of our area of expertise.”

The Nittany Lions are scheduled to leave for Ireland on Tuesday.

Bordell said he encourages travelers who book expensive trips to purchase insurance, just in case anything goes wrong.

“A lot of people do take it out,” he said.

There’s always the potential for passengers to get stranded for unforeseen reasons when traveling, but Bordell pointed out that’s rarely the case.

“Contingency plans are always in place by the major airlines,” he said.