Macau air passengers faced Manila dilemma after cancelled flights

Scenes yesterday at Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3, after normal operations had resumed

Hundreds of passengers flying between Manila and Macau have been affected by the activity of Taal volcano near the Philippines’ capital, which caused disruption and delays to a number of flights between the two regions.

Passengers traveling to Macau on Sunday night via low-cost carrier Cebu Pacific were still able to check-in for its 7:05 p.m. flight. However, confusion arose when the airport authorities announced that all flights had been cancelled due to a runway closure.

The Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) halted operations on Sunday when the volcano alert level was raised to 4. Level 5, the highest, indicates an eruption is underway.

The Manila International Airport Authority, and Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines urged passengers not to proceed to the airport and to coordinate with airlines to confirm their updated flight schedules.

However, some airlines did not inform passengers whether flights would still depart, causing them to arrive at the airport and wait for over two hours at the departure gates.

“There wasn’t any announcement that the flight was cancelled. Our flight was supposed to be at 7:05 p.m. [on Sunday]. The only announcement they made was that the flight would be delayed and we were asked to wait for 30 to 45 minutes for updates on the flight status,” Gizelle Sanchez, a Macau resident bound for the MSAR that night, told the Times.

After about an hour and a half, passengers asked ground employees at the counter for updates, only to find out that the runway was closed until 11 p.m.

All four airport terminals in Manila were following the orders of local authorities to suspend activity on the runway as there was a high chance the volcano would erupt.

However, many passengers did not leave the airport in the hope that their flights would go ahead.

“We couldn’t leave because the flights might resume. So we waited until 9:30 p.m. then we saw a huge crowd walking back to the arrival area. We asked the employee at the front desk again, and then she said the flight was actually cancelled. No [official] announcements [were made],” said Sanchez.

On the same flight was Jhel Diaz who told the Times he managed to rebook his flight for the next day at 7:05 p.m. despite the large crowd that swarmed the Cebu Pacific ticketing office.

He said that he initially saw his flight was cancelled when he checked information from the Macau International Airport website.

According to Diaz, another flight bound to Hong Kong had departed before being requested to return to the airport.

Passengers described the airport as a chaotic scene as travelers were rushing to ticketing counters to get the earliest flight on the following day.

It was not guaranteed that the runway would be opened the next day as NAIA runways and ramps had already accumulated a large quantity of ash, which required local authorities to review for safety reasons.  Nevertheless, many passengers took their chances with a flight on the following day.

For Sanchez, the earliest flight was only yesterday at 7:05 p.m.

The Times is aware that the earliest morning flight on Monday from Manila to Hong Kong, which was at 5:50 a.m. with carrier Cebu Pacific, was officially cancelled at around 11 p.m. on Sunday.

Passengers that tried to rebook their flights online were only given Tuesday afternoon as the earliest option. Then, after only a few minutes, flights to Macau and Hong Kong yesterday with Cebu Pacific and AirAsia, were made unavailable.

Ticket prices have also surged up to some 2,500 patacas for a one-way flight back to Macau due to the large demand. Usually, one-way tickets cost less than 1,000 patacas.

A total of 516 flights were affected by the suspension of NAIA operations from 6 p.m. Sunday until 9 a.m. Monday.

On Monday, the authorities announced the partial resumption of operations beginning at 10 a.m. for departures, and arrivals at 12 p.m. Priority was given to departure flights so that the NAIA ramps could be cleared of planes parked there since Sunday night. Second priority was given to regular scheduled flights on the Monday.

Yesterday, NAIA Terminal 3 – the largest terminal among the affected airports – was more peaceful and organized than it had been on Sunday evening. Around 1 p.m. yesterday, check-in counters had a moderate number of passengers, which seemed to suggest that daily scheduled flights had resumed normal operations.

Gates at the terminal were also not crowded.

Taal volcano continues to show signs of “an imminent hazardous eruption,” obliging a total evacuation of nearly half a million people near the country’s capital.

On the way to Manila from the southern part of Luzon, residents in some cities were seen cleaning ash from their houses and vehicles.

A family residing in Batangas fled to their hometown about 2 hours away, and were forced to rent a van as no public vehicles were operating due to low visibility in the area.

“We decided to come home because almost every few minutes we were experiencing small magnitude earthquakes. It was worrying,” one family member told the Times.

Taal volcano continuously spewed lava into the sky and trembled yesterday, threatening a bigger and more dangerous eruption.

According to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, about 50 volcanic earthquakes were detected in a span of over eight hours yesterday, indicating rising magma.

The volcano was spurting fountains of red-hot lava 800 meters into the sky, and the massive column of ash and volcanic debris at times flashed with streaks of lightning. Lynzy Valles, Manila

Categories Headlines Macau