Travel companies have denied profiteering from the volcanic dust cloud as stranded holidaymakers face paying premium fares to get home after the Easter break, The Times reported Saturday.

Channel ferry firms and Eurostar trains were fully booked this weekend as the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland continued to pump ash into the atmosphere and aircraft were grounded across Northern Europe.

Europe's three biggest airports -- London Heathrow, Paris-Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt -- were closed. In total at least 19 countries in Europe have been forced to shut down all or most of their airspace.

As travelers sought alternatives, P&O Ferries reported a 40 percent increase in bookings across the Channel. Prices for foot passengers increased from $93 for a return to more than  $231 over the weekend.

A spokesman for the company denied increasing prices because of the crisis: “We just have so much demand, we’re having to staff up our ships to the maximum capacity so that we can take as many passengers as possible.

"We’ve not increased our prices above the normal levels whatsoever.”

The port of Dover said that some ferry operators had made arrangements during the night to take additional foot passengers.

Eurostar expected to sell every ticket for its weekend services. The  $106 return tickets increased to $276 single.

Lesley Retallack, a Eurostar spokeswoman, said: “We are absolutely not trying to take advantage of the situation. It’s quite simply the fact that the demand has taken our prices to the top of our existing fare structure.”

Austria, Belgium, Britain, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland shut down all or most of their airspace.

The National Air Traffic Service also had to reinstate flight restrictions in Scotland and northern England after a "worsening" in volcanic ash conditions.

Meanwhile Ireland, Lithuania and Norway gradually reopened their airspace.

SOURCE LINK: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article7100282.ece