Thousands stranded at Indonesia airports

Passengers thronging the ticket counter at the Surabaya airport on Thursday after flights were cancelled. Some flights resumed yesterday but many people were still stranded as there were significant delays.
Passengers thronging the ticket counter at the Surabaya airport on Thursday after flights were cancelled. Some flights resumed yesterday but many people were still stranded as there were significant delays.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SURABAYA • Thousands of Indonesians were spending a miserable Hari Raya Idul Fitri yesterday after failing to make it home to see their families as erupting volcanoes closed six airports, including in the country's second-biggest city.

The international airport serving Surabaya, the largest city after Jakarta, and four smaller airports were closed on the eve of the Muslim holiday by the eruption of Mount Raung on the main island of Java.

The airport on the remote, eastern island of Ternate was shut due to ash drifting from erupting Mount Gamalama, the Transport Ministry said.

Travellers expecting to join their families for the final night of the Ramadan month instead spent the night in packed airport terminals, with many sleeping on the floor.

Surabaya's airport and a smaller one in East Java reopened yesterday, the Transport Ministry said, with some airlines resuming flights in the afternoon. But there were significant delays, with dozens of flights put back by hours.

AirAsia resumed some flights "earlier than scheduled", it said, as ash from Mount Raung began drifting away from Surabaya's airspace, but was forced to cancel and reschedule other flights.

Indonesian flag carrier Garuda also resumed some domestic and international routes, sending two of its larger planes to Surabaya to help clear the backlog.

"Finally flying," wrote Twitter user Jack Putera from Surabaya.

However, the other four terminals remain shut due to volcanic eruptions, prolonging the misery for thousands of passengers.

It is unclear when they will reopen but the Transport Ministry said the situation was being "re-evaluated every hour".

Garuda has cancelled all flights to those airports, until a "competent authority" reopens them.

In recent days, people across the vast archipelago have taken to planes, boats and cars to head to their hometowns and villages by yesterday to celebrate Hari Raya Idul Fitri, which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

The shutdowns came just days after the airport on the resort island of Bali was closed due to ash from Mount Raung, leaving thousands of foreign holiday-makers stranded.

Bali airport was open and operating normally on Thursday.

Air traffic is regularly disrupted by volcanic eruptions in Indonesia, which is home to 130 active volcanoes. The main concern for airlines regarding volcanic ash is not that it can affect visibility but rather that it could damage aircraft, as it turns into molten glass when sucked into plane engines, according to experts.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 18, 2015, with the headline 'Thousands stranded at Indonesia airports'. Print Edition | Subscribe