UPDATE: A larger ash cloud from the Chilean volcano could disrupt travel at Australia’s major airports for two days, affecting hundreds of thousands of passengers.
All major airlines on Tuesday cancelled flights en masse as the ash cloud made its second pass into Australian airspace.
Virgin Australia cancelled 170 domestic flights, while Qantas cancelled more than 200 flights on Tuesday afternoon and expected at least that number again on Wednesday.
Aviation Minister Anthony Albanese says airports in Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and Adelaide could be shut for up to 48 hours.
A cloud of ash from the Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcano eruption in Chile is causing massive cancellations of flights in Australia.
Mainly domestic flights have been cancelled for Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Adelaide, but some regional Australian and international services are also affected.
The cloud is expected to clear off mainland Australia on Wednesday and be clear of Tasmania on Wednesday night.
Airlines have announced the following individual measures:
Qantas: 200 flights cancelled Tuesday; same expected Wednesday; 20,000 passengers affected Tuesday; all Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne flights cancelled Wednesday.
Virgin Australia: 170 flights cancelled on Tuesday; 20,000 passengers affected Tuesday; Melbourne services suspended until 1pm Wednesday; Sydney and Canberra until 4pm Wednesday.
Jetstar: More than 70 flights cancelled Tuesday; 8000 passengers affected Tuesday.
Tiger Airways: All domestic flights cancelled Tuesday.
Michelle McClelland and David Love were this morning left to sit at Perth domestic airport with all their belongings when their plan to move to Sydney was disrupted by the volcanic ash.
Ms McClelland said the pair, who are originally from Ireland, had been scheduled to leave Perth on an 11am Jetstar flight.
“We were on the bus on the way to the airport and we got a text message saying ‘your flight has been cancelled due to the ash cloud’,” she said.
She said Jetstar had offered them a seat on a flight on Thursday or a refund.
Ms McClelland said she was told the only hotel accommodation available was $200 a night, so they had decided to stay at Perth Airport until at least 5pm when friends would finish work and they could ask for help.
Sam Lovell said she had been hoping to catch up with her family and buy a wedding dress with her mum before her 10am Virgin flight to Sydney was cancelled this morning.
“We probably won’t be able to catch up with mum now because she lives in New Zealand,” she said.
“We were only going over there for four days.”
Ms Lovell said she had been told to wait in the airport to find out when another flight would be available.
Gracie Juranovich was facing the possibility she might not make it to Sydney for her Mum’s 60th birthday after her Virgin flight was cancelled.
She had been due to fly out about 5am but spent several hours in the airport with her toddler Stan-Lee before managing to get another flight.
“Just got another flight tomorrow for the same time,” Mrs Juranovich said.
“There’s no guarantees the ash cloud is leaving though.”
Mrs Juranovich said she was worried other members of her extended family who were due to fly to Sydney tomorrow and Thursday could have the same problem.
Kalgoorlie teenager Shenae Greatorex was trying to find a way to get to Canada this morning to perform at the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo.
The 17-year-old was scheduled to fly to Sydney with Qantas on the way to Canada to join a highland dancing group with 30 members from around Australia.
“There’s two of us left here,” she said.
Miss Greatorex said Qantas had offered her a seat on a flight tomorrow night but that would mean she would miss her connecting Air Canada flight at 10am tomorrow.
She said she did not know what she would do in the meantime.
“We don’t really know, we’re still waiting on a call from the travel agent,” Miss Greatorex said.
On Tuesday morning, Airservices Australia said the new ash cloud could potentially seriously disrupt air travel in much of southeast Australia in the next 48 hours.
“The ash cloud is denser and larger than that which caused widespread disruption to flights last week,” it said.
Head of the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre, Andrew Tupper, said it was hoped that the latest ash cloud problems that began with Adelaide services being cancelled on Tuesday morning would only last for 48 hours in total.
Dr Tupper said the cloud was clearing South Australia and would reach Melbourne and Hobart on Tuesday night.
“It will be clearing from the mainland during the day tomorrow and it should be clear of Tasmania tomorrow night.
“So we’re still looking at a short, sharp event.”
The ash cloud from Chile’s Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcano caused six days of disruptions last week as the plume made its way over Australian and New Zealand airspace.
Dr Tupper said the ash cloud had clearly dissipated since its first pass over Australia last week and that it was unlikely to return a third time.
“My view is that we would be unlucky to have it come over us again, but I think we need to be a little bit cautious and stay vigilant for it just in case.”