Erupting volcanoes have shut down six airports so far, much to the dismay and frustration of stranded Indonesians flying back for the Eid holidays. Thousands of travelers were caught in the middle when airports shut down in the wake of two volcanic eruptions – including Surabaya, the largest city after the capital Jakarta. They now have to spend the joyous holiday occasion sleeping on airport floors.
The international airport along with four smaller airports were closed on the eve of the Muslim holiday by the eruption of Mount Raung on the main island of Java.
In recent days, people across the vast archipelago have had to rely on planes, boats and cars to head back to their home towns and villages to celebrate Eid – Muslim festival marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.
The airport on the remote, eastern island of Ternate was shut due to ash drifting from erupting Mount Gamalama, the transport ministry said.
Surabaya’s airport and a smaller one in East Java reopened on Friday, the transport ministry said, but three others remain shut, prolonging the travel chaos. The status of Malang airport in East Java remains unclear.
Airlines are warning passengers at the reopened terminals to expect significant delays, with dozens of flights backed up until the late afternoon.
Indonesian flag carrier Garuda was due to resume flights to and from Surabaya this afternoon, and had chartered two larger planes to help clear the backlog on its more popular routes.
But flights to the closed airports have been cancelled, with Garuda promising to evaluate the situation as it develops.
“Garuda Indonesia flights to and from destinations will only be resumed as each airport is reopened by the competent authority,” the airline said in a statement.
AirAsia had already cancelled or rescheduled half a dozen flights from Surabaya after the ministry had earlier ordered the airport to remain shut.
This is not the first time air traffic has been disrupted by volcanic eruptions in Indonesia – the country is home to 130 active volcanoes which regularly erupt and cause mayhem. 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.