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Passengers stranded as flights to and from Bali are cancelled; airport remains shut due to volcanic ash

[SINGAPORE] Uncertainty looms for passengers planning to travel to and from Bali as the island's Denpasar International Airport remains shut after a volcanic eruption.

The airport in the Indonesian resort island was closed at 3am on Friday (June 29) and expected to remain shut until at least 7pm, due to the eruption of Mt Agung.

Numerous flights from Singapore's Changi Airport to Bali, as well as those from the Indonesian island, were cancelled or postponed as a result.

Many travellers did not know of the last minute cancellations before arriving at Changi Airport for their flights.

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"We came to the airport at 7am for our 9am flight to Bali, but saw the information on the (travel schedule) board," said German mechanical engineer Wolfgang Mueller, 60.

He and his wife, Laura Mueller, 55, have been in Singapore for three days, and were supposed to go to Bali for two weeks, on Singapore Airlines.

They were initially told by airline staff that the flight was postponed to 1pm, but then later told again that a decision would be made at 2pm.

"If we can't fly, we will head back to Germany and, unfortunately, that would be the end of our holiday," said Mr Mueller.

"Everything in Bali has been booked and paid from three months back, so we are quite disappointed," said his wife Laura Mueller, 55, a pianist.

A check on the flight schedules showed that there are some cancellations for flights to Bali between 10.55am and 5pm.

When The Straits Times arrived at Changi Airport Terminal 2 at about 9am, a refreshments table with water, orange juice and pastries had been set up in front of the Singapore Airlines check-in counter for its affected passengers.

British tourists, Mr Nick Archer, 55, and his wife Anna, 35, said the booth was already there when they arrived at 7am for their 9am flight.

They, too, found out about the cancellation only upon reaching the airport.

"There's uncertainty now because we can only wait for our travel agent back home to inform us about what to do now," said Mr Archer.

He said that SIA offered them flights to alternative destinations, but he had to wait for his travel agent back in Britain, which has a seven-hour time difference with Singapore.

SIA staff onsite said passengers can choose to change their ticket to any other Asean destination, and the fee will be waived.

Should they choose to wait it out in Singapore on Friday night, the airline will help them get a room at Crowne Plaza Hotel, for free.

Over in Bali, as many as 8,334 passengers have been affected on Thursday by the eruption of Mount Agung in Indonesia's holiday island Bali as airlines AirAsia, Jetstar, Qantas and Virgin cancelled 48 flights from and to Ngurah Rai International Airport.

Out of the flights, 38 were international flights with 6,611 passengers, while the rest were domestic flights with 1,723 passengers, according to a statement from the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) on Friday.

Based on the daily schedule, 446 flights will not run on Friday following the closure of the airport, affecting 74,928 passengers in total, Israwadi, the corporate secretary of state-owned operator Angkasa Pura I told The Straits Times.

Of the figure, 239 are domestic flights and 207 are international flights, he added.

The Ngurah Rai airport will be closed until 7pm due to the impact of the volcanic ash, BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said, adding that an evaluation will be carried out by noon.

Singaporean civil servant Taufiq Kasni, 27, learnt of the airport closure there from staff at the hostel he was staying at.

He is supposed to fly back to Singapore on a 5pm flight, and has been in Bali for 12 days to dive and surf.

"I'm a bit worried because I'm working tomorrow. If the airport remains closed and the flight is delayed until tomorrow, then I will have to inform my boss," he said.

Bali's highest mountain has spouted an ash column of 2,500 metres, but so far its status remains on alert.

Mount Agung last erupted late last year, but the active volcano hurled ashes 2 kilometres into the sky on Thursday.

The volcanic ash affected some areas in the west and southeast west of the mount, such as Purage and Besakih and areas spanning four kilometers from the crater is categorized as dangerous zones.

Residents living in the mountain slopes have evacuated themselves independently, according to the agency's statement.

At least 309 people have taken refuge to three refugee centres in three villages in Karangasem Regency.

Mount Agung last had a major eruption in 1963, killing around 1,600 people. Its activity intensified last year, causing the evacuation of tens of thousands of people as well as lowering down tourist arrivals to Indonesia's most popular tourism destination, but pacified early this year.

Indonesia, the world's biggest archipelago of more than 17,000 islands, sits on the Pacific's "Ring of Fire", making it vulnerable to earthquake and volcanic eruptions.

THE STRAITS TIMES