Iceland ash cloud chokes Asian airports

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - The air travel chaos caused by a huge ash cloud from an Icelandic volcano has blown through to Asia, with hotels from Beijing to Singapore straining to accommodate thousands of stranded passengers.

Dozens of Europe-bound flights were canceled from Sydney to Tokyo and New Delhi, costing airlines millions of dollars in lost revenues and mounting hotel bills as distraught passengers braced for enforced stopovers of more than a week in Asia.

In Singapore, a major transit route for Europe-bound flights, 22 flights were canceled on early Saturday, Ivan Tan a spokesman for Changi Airport told Reuters, with more than 40 canceled since the disruption began.

“We don’t know where to stay,” said Dirk Kronewald, a German citizen. “Singapore hotels are full.”

Singapore Airlines’ said they were giving priority to elderly passengers and those with young children for hotel accommodation, but right now there were some shortages in Singapore hotels.

The airline was paying for two nights of hotel accommodation for affected passengers, for as much as S$300 per room a night, according to a pamphlet being distributed to passengers.

Mirjam, a Dutch national who was queuing at an airline counter with her husband Jules Vandamme and two dozen passengers, said the couple had to sleep at the airport late on Wednesday night before shifting to the nearby Crowne Hotel.

“One thousand people had to spend the night in the transit area” airline officials had told her, she said.


Cathay Pacific had canceled 29 flights so far since Thursday and said it would not be accepting new bookings to London, Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam for next the new few days.

“We encourage passengers not to go to the airport. For some passengers, who have already checked in, we have provided accommodation,” a Cathay Pacific spokeswoman said.

“So far the situation seems to be OK. It’s a global issue so passengers seems to be understanding,” she added.

At least 70 flights out of India, most of them headed for various European destinations were canceled on Friday and authorities said they are staring at similar cancellations at the weekend as volcanic ash continued to cover many parts of Europe.

“We might be here for another week. We don’t know,” a tourist told Times Now news channel in Mumbai airport on Saturday.

Aviation industry officials reported a loss of at least $1 billion in revenues due to cancellation of flights to Europe, an AAI official told Reuters.

Chinese newspapers reported long lines at Beijing airport as passengers lined up to change their tickets, and airlines struggled to find enough hotel rooms for stranded customers.

“I will just go and try my luck,” Ka Ka, a young local woman and office worker, who was scheduled to board a flight to Frankfurt to begin a long-planned European trip, told the Shanghai Daily in China.

“It’s hard to imagine something like this, taking place thousands of miles away from your place, could actually disrupt your life and plans,” she said.

Some foreign tourists had more pressing problems.

“Accommodation is an issue, but what’s worse is that in a few days this group’s visas will have expired,” a guide for a group of Russian visitors told the newspaper. “They risk having to stay here illegally. I don’t know what to do.”

Additional reporting by Harry Suhartono in Singapore, Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Jacqueline Wong in Shanghai, Bappa Majumdar in New Dehli; Editing by Jeremy Laurence