Will Iceland’s erupting volcano affect my flight? Here’s what we know so far

Iceland Eruption Volcano Vacation Chaos Travel Flight Cancellations Delay What It Means – Getty

Is history repeating itself? In an echo of the chaos of April 2010, an Icelandic volcano erupted violently, spewing lava and sparking fears of flight delays and cancellations.

At first glance, there is good reason for concern, as the Fagradalsfjall volcano is just 32 kilometers from Reykjavik airport. However, the eruption’s relatively small size has not meant any flight disruptions so far and the minimal impact of a similar event last year suggests that widespread travel chaos is not imminent. In fact, you may have to rely on UK airports and airlines to ruin your holiday.

This is in stark contrast to a decade ago, when the gigantic ash cloud emitted by the unpronounceable Eyjafjallajökull volcano in the south of the country caused more than 100,000 flight cancellations in a week.

Here, we look at the key issues surrounding Iceland’s latest volcanic eruption and what it could mean for your next vacation.

When did the eruption start?

Fagradalsfjall began to erupt on Wednesday (August 3) after weeks of increased seismic activity in the area. Immediately, authorities ordered a ‘code red’ alert, which prohibited planes from flying directly above the area, although this could be downgraded soon and has not affected flight schedules.

Fagradalsfjall continues to spew lava and so far it is unclear when this will stop. The same volcano saw an eruption last year – the first in 6,000 years – that lasted six months but remained localized and did not affect international travel. In fact, it attracted more tourists to the country who were desperate to see it up close.

As Iceland is located between two tectonic plates (Eurasian and North American), it experiences frequent earthquakes and volcanic activity. There have been seven significant eruptions during the 21st century, with experts predicting they could become more frequent in the coming years.

Will my flight be cancelled?

It seems unlikely that the eruption will cause any significant disruption to travel, particularly if it follows the pattern of last year’s eruption, which has remained relatively small, albeit lasting.

Iceland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that travel is running smoothly, stating: “Currently, there has been no disruption to flights to and from Iceland and international flight corridors remain open.”

Elsewhere, low-cost Icelandic airline Play has sought to ease passengers’ concerns.

A statement on its website reads: “The eruption is small, does not pose a threat to infrastructure or the inhabitants of the area. Keflavik International Airport is open and arriving flights are having a truly spectacular view!”

Why did the Eyjafjallajokull eruption in 2010 cause travel chaos?

About 10 million passengers were impacted when the ice-covered Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted in April 2010, coinciding very well with the end of the Easter holidays. More than 100,000 flights were canceled in just one week, leaving passengers stranded in their holiday destinations. Transatlantic routes were among the most affected, in what was the biggest grounding of flights since World War II. Of course, the Covid-19 pandemic has eclipsed this feat.

The reason for the disproportionate impact was the high level of ash and smoke that the volcano spewed into the atmosphere (and European airspace). Despite its proximity to Reyjavik, the relatively diminutive size of the Fagradalsfjall eruption should mean chaos is avoided.

Can I see the eruption if I’m in Iceland?

Last year’s six-month eruption of Fagradalsfjall has become a tourist attraction, with locals and visitors climbing the hills eager to catch a glimpse of the molten rock fountains.

Perhaps sensing a similar appetite for lava, Icelandic authorities urged people to “do not approach the new volcanic eruption until further notice as the situation is uncertain and it is possible that pollution could be detected due to the release of gas”.

Hikers were also advised to be extra careful when hiking the Reykanes Peninsula, due to the increased risk of rockfalls and landslides. For more information on Iceland traveler safety and the volcanic eruption, visit safetravel.is.

Am I protected if my flight is canceled due to a volcanic eruption?

If your flight is impacted by a volcanic eruption, there is no guarantee that you will be compensated by your insurer, as many do not offer standard coverage for natural disasters. However, it can often be added. Always read the fine print on your policy before booking to be sure of inclusions.

For more advice on what most travel insurers do and don’t cover, read our guide.

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