BRUSSELS — European airports sent thousands of planes into the sky Thursday after a week of unprecedented disruptions, with airlines piling on more flights and bigger planes to try to get as many people home as possible.
Nearly all of the continent's 28,000 scheduled flights, including more than 300 trans-Atlantic routes, were going ahead. Every plane was packed, however, as airlines squeezed in some of the hundreds of thousands who had been stranded for days among passengers with regular Thursday tickets.
Airlines said that despite their efforts, there was no quick and easy solution to cut down the backlog of passengers.
"Quite frankly we don't have an answer to this," said David Henderson, spokesman for the Association of European Airlines, which predicted it would take several days to get all stranded passengers to their destinations. "We don't know where they are and in what numbers, so we would expect it will go on into the early part of next week."
Shifting winds sent a new plume of volcanic ash over Scandinavia, forcing some airports to close again. The new airspace restrictions applied to parts of northern Scotland, southern Norway, Sweden and Finland, said Kyla Evans, spokeswoman for Eurocontrol, the European air traffic agency.
Some oil rig workers were trapped Thursday on platforms in the North Sea because helicopters were grounded.
A week of airspace closures caused by the ash threat to planes created the worst breakdown in civil aviation in Europe since World War II. More than 100,000 flights were canceled and airlines are on track to lose more than $2 billion. The aviation crisis that began with an April 14 volcanic eruption in Iceland left millions of passengers in limbo and sparked calls for a wholesale reform of Europe's air traffic system.
Some travelers got a break. Authorities chartered a luxury cruise ship — the Celebrity Eclipse — to pick up 2,200 tourists in the northern Spanish port of Bilbao on Thursday and bring them back to England.
A British Royal Navy ship also arrived in Portsmouth, southern England, carrying 440 troops coming home from Afghanistan and 280 civilians back from Santander, Spain.