Stranded in Bali: An Epic Escape Story

Denpasar Airport in Bali was closed last week due to volcanic ash.

If you’ve been following the news, you’re probably aware that Mt Agung on the Indonesian island of Bali began erupting last week. This resulted in chaos for travellers stranded in Bali as flights were diverted, delayed and cancelled. Denpasar Airport remained closed for several days due to volcanic ash in the vicinity of the airfield, which poses a serious safety threat to aircraft.

With most flights out of Bali cancelled for the foreseeable future, and a backlog of passengers waiting to get home, many travellers couldn’t afford to wait and see. Many decided to make their own alternative travel arrangements.

One of the Australians stranded in Bali was AFF member N860CR. After a short holiday in Bali, the eruption of Mt Agung resulted in the cancellation of this member’s Virgin Australia flight back to Australia.

Enjoyed a few days floating in the pool and not doing much. I’d been keeping an eye on the volcano situation, however didn’t expect it to escalate so quickly. We eventually received a text regarding the cancelled flight, and a revised departure 2 days later.

The villa offered 2 extra nights at a reduced rate, but I really needed to be home. I was also concerned that the revised flight wouldn’t go ahead (and it’s subsequently also been cancelled with another 48 hour delay added).

With no flights departing from Denpasar, our member began to look for other options. There are nearby airports at Lombok and Banyuwangi, but Lombok’s airport was likely to close too and all flights from the other airport were full.

So… we’re on our own! I start hunting options. A fast boat to Lombok seems like a plan, but there’s still the risk that it will close again too. The villa concierge was an absolute star and started making some calls. He said Lombok wasn’t a good idea. There’s another airport on the East Java Coast (4-5 hours travel, but all flights are to Surabaya and they’re full for days. Next option – drive to Surabaya.

The long, overnight drive to Surabaya was a tiring and at times frightening experience. But our member survived and eventually arrived at Surabaya Airport around sunrise. The plan was to book a flight from there to Jakarta, Indonesia’s main international airport. But that would prove easier said than done. Many other stranded travellers were trying to do exactly the same thing, and all flights were full.

We finally arrive at SUB just before sunrise, and just as a few flights to JED are getting ready to go so the place is a zoo. It was the most bizarre combination I’ve seen in a long time… thousands of pilgrims surrounded by stressed and tired white folk in bintang singlets. I’ve never seen so many people camped at an airport before.

Fortunately, N860CR‘s luck soon turned and they managed to secure some last-minute seats on a flight out of Surabaya. From there, some flights back to Sydney became available via Kuala Lumpur.

Denpasar Airport re-opened late last week. With thousands of Australians still stranded in Bali, Qantas even flew an empty Boeing 747 to Denpasar last Thursday. But given the unpredictable nature of volcanic eruptions, it could be some time before Bali returns to normal.

Read all about N860CR‘s epic adventure HERE.


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Matt Graham
The editor of Australian Frequent Flyer, Matt's passion for travel has taken him to over 60 countries… with the help of frequent flyer points, of course!
Matt's favourite destinations (so far) are Germany, Brazil, New Zealand & Kazakhstan. His interests include economics, aviation & foreign languages, and he has a soft spot for good food and red wine.

You can contact Matt at [email protected]