Airline passengers desperate to fly out of Denpasar airport in Bali have besieged airline desks, as dozens of flights were cancelled because of volcanic ash from nearby Mount Agung.
The airport, which normally handles around 40,000 passengers a day, closed at 7am on Monday, initially for 24 hours. But the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre in Darwin, northern Australia, predicted that by 2.50pm on Tuesday, local time, the whole island of Bali would be under a cloud of volcanic ash up to a height of 30,000 feet.
One passenger, Jakob Aungiers, tweeted: “Chaos at Bali airport as @AirAsia cancelled all flights and now no more info has been given. Check-in counters understaffed and no #AirAsia staff on hand to help out. Passengers confused.”
AirAsia is offering passengers whose flights are cancelled only a choice between re-booking for travel within 30 days and a credit for future travel.
An Indian national, Aarthi, tweeted the minister of external affairs in Delhi, Sushma Swaraj, to say: “Indians stranded in Bali need a way out. If Denpasar airport is shut for a week help us get to the nearest International Airport.”
KLM, the only European airline with flights to Bali, said all departures from and to Denpasar are cancelled until further notice. "KLM follows strict safety rules concerning volcano eruptions and does not consider it safe to land and depart at Denpasar Airport as long as the volcano is active," said the carrier.
The Australian airline, Jetstar, is offering anyone from Western Australia booked to Bali up to 4 December to fly to Singapore instead.
Meanwhile various foreign diplomatic missions, including Australia, the UK, France and Singapore, have set up consular desks at Denpasar airport.
The British consulate-general tweeted: “We have a team at Bali airport to liaise with airport authorities and airlines; and to provide additional support to British nationals.”
British visitors were urged by Foreign Office officials in Bali: “Make sure to wear face mask as announced by the local government. You can get the masks at Search & Rescue Post of Tanagampo, Karangsem. Outside this area, you must provide by yourself.”
Some airline passengers decided to leave by sea instead, to Ketapang in Java and Lombok - whose airport is likely to open before Denpasar.
The flight specialist OAG said the closure had happened at an unfortunate time; December is the busiest month for passenger numbers at Denpasar airport.
John Grant, senior analyst for the firm, said: “A change of wind direction or a reduction in volcanic activity and the airport could re-open in a short space of time. Equally, when Mount Eyjafjallajokull erupted in Iceland in June 2010 over $1.75bn [£1.3bn] was lost by airlines unable to operate their planned schedules.”
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