JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Indonesia's airlines are calculating the potential losses of flight delays and cancellations caused by smoke from wildfires, currently blanketing areas across Sumatra and Kalimantan.
Garuda Indonesia vice president of corporate communications Benny S. Butarbutar said that around 500 flights had been cancelled throughout September, due to smoke currently affecting several areas such Jambi in Central Sumatra, Palangkaraya in Central Kalimantan, Pontianak in West Kalimantan and Riau.
"The effect of the haze on our businesses is very significant. From Sept 3 to Sept 21, at least 500 flights had to be cancelled. Our subsidiary, Citilink, had 250 flight cancellations during the period," he told thejakartapost.com.
Benny further said that Garuda and Citilink had prepared a measure called "3-R", an abbreviation for Reroute, Reschedule and Refund, to respond to haze-related weather conditions.
He said if the visibility of the destined airport was poor, the pilot would try to reroute the flight to the nearest airport, which had better visibility. If the reroute option was not available, Garuda would decide to cancel and reschedule the flight, waiting for better visibility.
Meanwhile, the refund option was open when passengers decide to withdraw their flight booking permanently.
Sharing similar sentiments, Lion Mentari Airlines (Lion Air) general affairs director Edward Sirait said the current haze-related situation was bad for the airline. Many passengers cancelled their reservations and flights were forced to delay and even to cancel service totally.
"Surely, there is revenue loss due to this. We haven't got the exact number and are still assessing how much it is going to be," he said.
Edward said that at the moment, Lion Air crew members who were operating in haze-affected areas had continued to closely monitor the visibility in the airport. They sent reports every half hour, thus allowing flight schedules to be adjusted closer to the reality.
He said the airline had focused on the passenger's safety in deciding whether or not the flight would continue to operate. "We have applied a contingency plan to follow during this kind of situation. Passengers' safety is our priority," Edward said.
Benny said Garuda put the passengers first by offering in-flight rescheduling requests and even giving the passengers refunds.
Both of the airlines urged the government to do more to tame the fires.
The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) said that the fires would likely continue until November. Bad weather caused by smoke from the wildfires would continue to threaten people's health.
Responding to the situation, BNPB called on people to take preventive measures, especially from the health side.
"If it is painful for you to breathe, you have to seek medical treatment," BNPB head Willem Rampangilei said as quoted by kompas.com on Thursday (Oct 1).
BNPB also urged the people not to burn the land, saying that the government could not handle the situation entirely on its own. "If the people are aware of how to prevent fires themselves, God willing, it can be immediately resolved," said Willem, adding that the government had intensified fire extinguishing efforts both via air and land.