Disruption of the London Book Fair due to the spreading cloud of volcanic ash from Iceland has been upgraded to a “significant” deal as some international attendees hope for the best and others are giving up. The latest official word as of this morning from the UK’s Met Office (via the web site at NATS) is that the airspace over England and Wales remains closed until at least 7 AM Saturday, London time. As of 7 PM tonight, restrictions are being lifted over “a large part of Scottish airspace.” So people planning to fly Saturday night or Sunday still have a shot at making it. But changing winds continue to add to the unpredictability of the situation with BBC weather forecaster Matt Taylor warning that later this weekend, “they will return to a northwesterly direction and are more likely to bring the risk of ash back to the UK.”
The LBF’s traditional strength–drawing publishing people from around the world–now becomes its achilles heel in this unusual situation. Fair official had expected their highest number of exhibiting companies ever, 1,672 in all. (About 300 are from the US, and approximately another 600 from elsewhere outside of the UK.)
Fair officials have gamely vowed that “the show must–and will–go on and we will provide all the help we can to ensure it runs as smoothly as possible.”
Their customer service team is contacting international exhibitors to “offer assistance with manning stands and arranging alternative travel plans where possible.” Anecdotal and posted accounts indicate that alternate transport, like trains from continental Europe, are sold out for days.
In an informal polling of some US publishers, we were told that Hachette Book Group’s rights team has arrived but no else has departed yet. At Simon & Schuster they are “watching it closely, hoping the cloud passes and that they will be able make it over there–and that their business contacts will too.” Penguin has already canceled a Tuesday press briefing that relied on executives from around the world. At Random House, “we’re trying everything we reasonably can to get our prospective international attendees to the Fair.”