Bali tourists face backlog as airport reopens

Indonesian farmers working on a field in Sumber Arum village yesterday as nearby Mount Raung spewed volcanic ash. Ms Ong, who was to have left Bali last Friday, had to pay $300 to secure a flight home today.
Indonesian farmers working on a field in Sumber Arum village yesterday as nearby Mount Raung spewed volcanic ash. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Indonesian farmers working on a field in Sumber Arum village yesterday as nearby Mount Raung spewed volcanic ash. Ms Ong, who was to have left Bali last Friday, had to pay $300 to secure a flight home today.
Ms Ong, who was to have left Bali last Friday, had to pay $300 to secure a flight home today.PHOTO: COURTESY OF ELAINE ONG

Ms Elaine Ong should be back in Singapore to celebrate her sister's birthday today, but the 32-year-old is still stuck in Bali, her plans upended by an erupting volcano.

Ash clouds thrown up by Mount Raung in Indonesia's East Java province prompted the Transport Ministry to close five airports - including the one on Bali - for safety reasons last Friday, as volcanic ash can damage jet engines.

The closures saw flights cancelled and left thousands of travellers, such as Ms Ong , stranded.

"After we were notified by SMS and e-mail by Jetstar, we immediately went back to our hotel to extend our stay," said the bank executive, who was to have left last Friday.

Bali's airport reopened yesterday morning, but a backlog meant that she still could not get a flight home yesterday. Ms Ong said she and her friends were offered free flights back to Singapore if they leave on Friday, but they opted to pay $300 for a one-way ticket on the earliest flight available this evening .

The uncertainty is making her depressed. "I've been affected by delayed flights over technical issues," she told The Sunday Times.

"This one delay made me depressed because we are not sure when things will get better. When technical glitches happen, you have an idea of when you can fly back."

The  travel disruptions caused by the volcanic eruptions, which began last month, come during a peak travel period. Apart from thousands of foreign travellers stranded at airports, millions of Indonesians are returning to their hometowns to celebrate Idul Fitri on Friday. At least six million are travelling by plane.

A Transport Ministry spokesman, Mr Julius Adravida Barata, told The Sunday Times that Bali airport reopened yesterday at 10am. But it could be forced to close again if conditions were to change.

About 270 flights from and to Bali's Ngurah Rai Airport were cancelled last Friday alone. It is the country's second-busiest airport after Jakarta's Soekarno-Hatta Airport.

More than 19,450 people were affected by the airport closure, said a spokesman for airport operator Angkasa Pura I.

According to Changi Airport Group, the operator of Changi Airport, at least 17 flights to and from Bali were affected yesterday compared with a total of 32 last Friday.

Mount Raung's alert status has been raised since eruptions began late last month. Indonesia has about 130 active volcanos and sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, a seismic belt that makes it prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 12, 2015, with the headline 'Bali tourists face backlog as airport reopens'. Print Edition | Subscribe