Mount Etna eruption causes 15,000 passengers severe travel disruption as flights cancelled and diverted

Danger zone? Scafa in Sicily, one of the resorts served by Catania airport (Simon Calder)
Danger zone? Scafa in Sicily, one of the resorts served by Catania airport (Simon Calder)

Passengers using Sicily’s busiest airport, Catania, are facing delays and cancellations as a result of Mount Etna’ most recent eruption.

Europe’s highest active volcano has seen increased activity over the past few days, with the Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia in Catania saying ash had reached 2.7 miles in height.

As a result of the eruption, some of the airspace in the region has been closed to passenger aircraft – meaning the arrivals rate at Catania airport is much slower than usual, at just five per hour.

At least 90 outbound and inbound flights – representing around 15,000 passengers – have been cancelled. They include British Airways to and from London Gatwick and easyJet links with Luton and Bristol.

EasyJet is telling passengers: “We’re sorry that your flight has been cancelled. This is because volcanic activity in CTA [Catania] is causing restrictions to the areas in which aircraft are permitted to fly.

“The safety of you and our crew is our highest priority and we thank you for your understanding.”

The highest number of cancellations is on Ryanair, with 42.

Many other passengers have found themselves on diverted flights, mostly to the airport serving Sicily’s capital, Palermo.

Italy’s Civil Protection Department says: “Italy, together with Iceland, has the greatest concentration of active volcanoes in Europe and is one of the first in the world for the number of inhabitants exposed to volcanic risk.

“Active or potentially active volcanoes are situated in southern Italy with varying degrees of hazard.

“Follow the civil protection authorities’ instructions transmitted by radio, TV, in the daily press, on the internet and by the various toll-free numbers that will be set up.

“During eruptions, it is also important not heed the forbidden to enter signs at the areas involved by the eruption. It is dangerous to approach the crater area even if there is no eruptive activity as sudden explosive phenomena or gas emissions are always possible.”

Under European air passengers’ rights rules, travellers whose flights are cancelled are entitled to be flown as soon as possible to their final destination.

A year ago, there were chaotic scenes at Catania airport after fire damaged part of a terminal building.

For a time, flights from the UK were suspended because it was not possible for the authorities to check passports from travellers from outside the Schengen Area.