Traveling in a Post-Iceland Volcano World

Iceland's volcano stranded jet travelers. Here's how to get around without the use of airplanes.
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LOS ANGELES (TheStreet) -- When the Icelandic volcano spewed a cloud of ash over Europe, many travelers chose to sit and wait, hoping airline travel would soon continue as normal.

It did, but it took five days. But what about next time? What if the jet-based aviation that so many of us take for granted were to become grounded longer?

What about the blimps?

Perhaps air travel will return to its roots. The world's first airline was Deutsche Luftschiffahrts-Aktiengesellschaft, a commercial aviation company that used the Zeppelin to service German city routes like Frankfurt, Berlin and Hamburg in 1913.

The Zeppelin NT has a capacity of only 12 passengers and travels much shorter distances than early-era airships like the Hindenburg.

In 1928, the service inaugurated the now-infamous transatlantic service that later included the Hindenburg as well as its sibling ship, the Graf Zeppelin, which even managed trips to Recife and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Zeppelins were far cushier than today's trains and planes, plus almost entirely silent. Travel was more like staying at a private lodge, featuring observation decks, restaurants and private butler service that would shame most first-class airplane cabins.

Sadly, today's air ships like the Zeppelin NT are carrying a load of only 12 passengers and limiting their journeys to around 500 miles. Luckily, for now, it appears we still have time for ingenuity and innovation to emancipate travel from its airplane dependence before the next Eyjafjallajokull starts blowing.

"I'll just take a ship there":

Before there were transatlantic flights, there was the ocean liner. Today we have cruise ships, which could pick up the slack at least temporarily if any of us want to go anywhere.

With bigger ships than ever before, common sense says you could simply reconfigure these behemoths. But it's not just a matter of swapping out a Caribbean cruise for a transatlantic crossing.

There's a big difference between passenger ocean liners and conventional cruise ships. In fact, as of today, there are few transatlantic ocean liners. Only one, the Queen Mary 2 (QM2), works a regular transatlantic schedule. With 2,620 passengers per voyage, you likely wouldn't be able to get a coveted ticket.

Ocean liners are built to withstand grueling weather conditions and long, strenuous journeys. Ocean liners also require beefier engines.

Most large cruise ships are intended for abbreviated sea journeys in more predictable waters and weather. Most cruise ships wouldn't be able to handle transatlantic journeys without substantial retrofitting.

The reinvention of travel:

Travel has become so effortless that we no longer consider the flight to get there as part of the journey. Getting to places like Paris and London is simply a matter of airport transfers.

In a post-airline world, the trip would have to be just as much about the journey as the destination. Currently, the record for transatlantic (eastbound) crossings belongs to the SS United States, which managed the journey in three days, 10 hours and 40 minutes in 1952. And that just gets you to Britain. From there it will have to be trains, ferries and cars the rest of the way.

All aboard train travel:

Trains will also have to pick up the slack, as well as their pace, in an America that all but abandoned its glittery rail past.

If you're looking to travel cross-country on rails, you better prepare for a very long ride for the foreseeable future. Currently, it takes upwards of 63 hours to cross the U.S. with Amtrak on a route that winds from New York's Penn Station through Washington D.C. to Chicago and then on to L.A. The airline-style seats offer a choice of coach- or business-class, or first-class sleeping compartments.

A dining car, more Denney's than Orient Express, offers a rotating menu that includes morning French toast, lunchtime steak sandwich and evening seafood dinner. What about Wi-Fi for the three-day journey? Sadly, Internet is available only on select Northeastern routes of roughly the first three hours of the trip.

Michael Martin is the managing editor of JetSetReport.com -- a luxury travel and lifestyle guide based in Los Angeles and London. His work has appeared in In Style, Blackbook, Elle, U.K.'s Red magazine, ITV and BBC.