London’s Heathrow Airport reopened flights on Tuesday night after almost a week of flight cancellations due to the volcanic ash from Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano, which erupted last Wednesday and spread a thick cloud of ash over Europe.
Major airports around Europe are now reopening their airspace for more flights to resume, allowing stranded tourists and goods to reach their destinations, although recent reports suggest this is happening somewhat haphazardly.
Anecdotal reports suggest some hotels and resorts are reaching capacity with stranded tourists, particularly those near the airport on Hulhumale.
Controller of Immigration, Ilyas Hussain Ibrahim, said tourists who have been stranded in the Maldives will not have any issues with immigration.
“We are willing to extend their visas,” he said. “There is no problem with visas expiring. The problem is when they over-stay their booking at the hotels and resorts.”
Deputy Director at the Ministry of Tourism Hassan Zameer said no resorts have reported any cases of stranded tourists to the ministry, but they have informed resorts not to take passengers to the airport unless their flight has been confirmed.
Zameer said members of government, the tourism industry and resorts met earlier this week to discuss the situation, and said some resorts had offered to give their guests discounts “so long as they are not losing money.”
He said he did not know whether any resorts were implementing these discounted rates.
Zameer noted that “if this situation is prolonged it will be very costly to [the resorts],” and they are trying to help guests how they can.
Deputy Minister of Tourism Thoyyib Waheed said the ministry does not have any statistics on how many tourists have been stranded in the Maldives or how many were expected to arrive but were stranded in Europe.
But he added the airport has set up a hotline (call 332 2211) to help tourists with information on flights.
Staff at the One & Only Reethi Rah resort said most of their guests have extended their stay for at least four nights, but could not give any more details about whether they were giving special rates or any other assistance to these guests.
Many resorts around Malé that are reported to be over-booked with stranded tourists did not wish to comment on how they are handling the situation.
Stranded in paradise
Minivan News spoke to one British couple with their two young kids who had planned to return to the UK on Monday, when Sri Lankan Airlines informed them their flight had been cancelled and they would have to stay in the Maldives until flights resumed.
Because the airline is not party to the EU legislation, it does not have to provide financial assistance, such as accommodation and food vouchers, to its stranded customers.
The couple said they knew some people who were flying with British Airways and noted that BA customers were getting compensation from the airline.
They stressed the point that insurance would not cover any of their expenses, noting “nothing is covered.”
Because they were staying at a resort that cost US$450 per person per day plus food, they have found new, more affordable, accommodation in Malé until they can be rebooked on a flight home.
“We’re just waiting for Sri Lankan Airlines to call us,” they said. “There’s a three-flight back-log.”
The couple added they were meant to be back at work in the UK early this week and their kids should be back at school.
“We’re losing our salary on top of the extra expenses,” they said.
They noted neither the airline, the resort or the government had assisted them in any way.
An Italian couple had a different story to tell. They were stuck in Shanghai and were told their best option was to take a flight to Kuala Lumpur and then to Cairo. But by when they reached KL, they discovered their flight to Egypt had been cancelled.
“So we came to the Maldives to relax for a few days,” they said, adding that they had no swimsuits or beach clothes, “just scarves and jackets.”
They had been told of a flight back to Italy on April 29, but were still awaiting confirmation from their airline and are hoping to get back on Sunday, if possible.
“For now, we will go relax at a nice resort with beautiful beaches,” they said.
Two young Britons said they had not yet been affected by the volcano since their flight was originally scheduled for tomorrow, and are hoping they will be able to keep their seats.
Many import/export businesses, such as tropical fish exporters, have also faced difficulty since they cannot send their products to Europe. Cargo has been stopped in hubs like Dubai and stored by the airlines, while some if it has been returned to the Maldives.
With airlines gradually reopening their flights again, goods and products are now queued, waiting to reach their destination.