Tens of thousands of travellers due to fly to or from Sicily’s busiest airport, Catania, have seen their flights diverted or cancelled due to the eruption of Etna.
An ash plume from the 3,357m volcano, which is the most active in Europe, spread across eastern part of the island.
Catania airport was due to handle 235 flights on Monday according to aviation data experts Cirium. But it closed after the arrival of a flight from Casablanca at 2.38am local time on Monday.
The airport is about 50km south of Etna.
The 6.30am easyJet flight from London Gatwick to Catania is set to depart at 2pm and will fly to Comiso airport, which is 150km from Etna in southeast Sicily. The estimated arrival time is 6.05pm – over seven hours behind schedule.
A second easyJet flight from Gatwick has been cancelled, along with the departures from Bristol and Edinburgh.
Both Luton departures on easyJet on Monday are being diverted to Comiso.
A spokesperson for easyJet said “Due to the eruption of Mount Etna and the subsequent ash cloud close to its runway, Catania airport is currently closed.
“Like all airlines operating into Catania, easyJet is currently unable to operate many of its scheduled flights to and from the airport today. We have rerouted some of our flights to operate into Comiso airport today.
“Unfortunately it is not clear when normal operations will resume.”
British Airways had a 7.10am departure from Gatwick to Catania, which has now been cancelled. A BA spokesperson said: “Due to the closure of Catania airport, we’ve had to cancel our flight due to operate today.
“We continue to monitor the situation and have been in contact with customers to apologise and offer options including rebooking with us or another airline, or a full refund.”
Seven Ryanair flights due to land at Catania on Monday morning have been diverted to Trapani airport at the far west of Sicily.
The carrier told travellers: “Due to the eruption of Mount Etna, we would like to advise all passengers traveling to and from Catania on 14 August of possible delays, diversion or cancellations to flights.
“Affected passengers will be notified as soon as possible..
“Ryanair understands the disruptions to passengers resulting from delays, diversions, or cancellations; the situation is unfortunately outside of our control, and we thank you for your patience. “
Dozens of other flights have been cancelled, including at least 10 ITA flights between Rome and Catania. Some have been diverted to Comiso.
The morning wave of departures from Catania was due to begin at 6am, with all 10 flights in the first hour cancelled.
Later flights are scheduled from Catania to Bristol, Edinburgh, Gatwick (two departures) and Luton on easyJet, as well as BA and Wizz Air flights to Gatwick. In total, over 1,000 passengers are due to fly back from the Italian island on Monday.
Catania airport was temporarily closed between mid-July and early August because of fire damage.
Under European air passengers’ rights rules, travellers whose flights are heavily delayed or cancelled are entitled to hotels and meals as appropriate – and to be taken to their destination as soon as possible.
The easyJet spokesperson said: “We are providing customers affected by the cancellations with their options to transfer to for free or receive a refund. We are also providing hotel accommodation and meals for those who require it..“
In 2010 the eruption of an Icelandic volcano brought aviation in northern Europe to a halt for almost a week.
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