Jakarta. Flag carrier Garuda Indonesia on Wednesday diverted its embarkation point for hajj pilgrims from Solo to Surabaya to keep flights from being delayed by volcanic ash from the erupting Mount Merapi.
Garuda spokesman Pujobroto said on Wednesday that pilgrims in batches 64, 65, 66 and 67 scheduled to leave from Solo would depart from Surabaya.
The pilgrims will fly to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, via Batam Island, just south of Singapore.
“Garuda has prepared buses to transport the departing pilgrims to Surabaya while check-in and other departure details have been processed earlier in Solo,” the airline said in a statement.
Pujobroto said the departure point had to be changed because the volcano could delay flights, resulting in missing the Nov. 10 deadline for getting into Saudi Arabia through King Abdulaziz Airport in Jeddah.
Solo had been scheduled to see 33,492 pilgrims, split into 88 groups, leave from Adisumarmo International Airport.
Garuda said it had so far flown 119,622 pilgrims in 306 groups for this year’s hajj. The first batch of pilgrims left from Polonia Airport in Medan on Oct. 11.
A total of 491 groups of pilgrims will leave this year, comprising 197,500 regular-package pilgrims and 23,500 special-package pilgrims.
The government organizes all-inclusive hajj packages for some 200,000 pilgrims every year, causing logistical headaches for the authorities.
Merapi, which straddles four districts in Central Java and Yogyakarta, has seen marathon eruptions since Oct. 26.
Bambang Ervan, spokesman for the Transportation Ministry, said on Tuesday that airlines had been warned to avoid certain routes over Yogyakarta and Central Java as Mount Merapi continued to belch dangerous hot ash high into the air, forcing six international flights to be canceled due to poor visibility.
Bambang said an official warning had been issued to all airlines to “use alternative routes for safety reasons due to the volcanic ash.”
Malaysia-based AirAsia had canceled four flights linking Kuala Lumpur with Yogyakarta and nearby Solo on Tuesday. SilkAir, the regional carrier of Singapore Airlines, confirmed on Tuesday that it had taken two flights between Singapore and Solo off the schedule.
Merapi spewed hot ash high into the air at least six times on Tuesday.