Bali volcano eruption: Singaporean extended family of 18 arrives home

Faizal Ali (centre, in cap), his brother Shah (third from right, in cap) and the rest of their extended family, shortly after landing at Changi Airport Terminal 1 from Surabaya on Sunday (3 December) morning. (PHOTO: Nicholas Yong/Yahoo News Singapore)

UPDATE: Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs gave details of its Bali airport counter.

By Nicholas Yong and Nurul Azliah

What was meant to be their first-ever family vacation turned into an expensive and extended trip for one Singaporean clan, thanks to the volcanic eruptions from Bali’s Mount Agung, which disrupted travel plans for thousands.

For marketing analyst Faizal Ali, 40, his musician brother Shah, 42, and 16 other members of their extended family, it was a long journey home following the cancellation of their return flight from the Indonesian island.

After a 17-hour car and ferry journey from Bali to Surabaya, and then a three-day wait for the first available flight home, the family finally arrived in Singapore early on Sunday morning (3 December).

Faizal reckoned that his family exceeded their planned budget by some $9,000 – or about $500 per person – thanks to the additional travel and accommodation arrangements, not to mention daily expenses.

“We really overspent, we kept going to the ATM to withdraw money,” he said. To make matters worse, they did not purchase travel insurance as they thought that it would be a short trip.

Instead of the planned four- to five-day getaway, they spent almost a full week in Indonesia.

Faizal and Shah, who play in a band together, ended up having to cancel a performance scheduled for 29 November. Other family members, such as their 25-year-old cousin Nisa Anuar, a customer service officer, had to take no-pay leave to make up for the extended time away.

“The whole thing was very frustrating,” said Nisa. The family had been planning their trip since April this year.

Holiday gone wrong

The family arrived in Bali on 26 November, the day that Mount Agung erupted for the second time in a week. Ngurah Rai International Airport was closed that day, leaving thousands of tourists stranded, including many Singaporeans who were meant to fly home on airlines such as Singapore Airlines, Scoot and Jetstar.

The family proceeded with their plans in Bali, where the main tourist areas are at least 40km away from Mount Agung, as they had been scheduled to leave via Scoot on Wednesday and Thursday.

But on Tuesday morning, they heard about the airport closure for the first time from news reports. This led Faizal, Shah and a family friend, 46-year-old Sri Rahayu, to head to the airport to get an update on the situation.

They found hundreds of fellow tourists already there, with the crowd steadily building up, said Shah. The trio then went to the Scoot counter, where they discovered a solitary staff member who gave them a list of numbers to call.

While there were Critical Response Teams from various countries to help out different tourists, the trio reported that the Singapore counter was not manned. The trio waited for some time along with a crowd of about 10, but no one came.

That night, the family were informed by Scoot via e-mail and text message that their flights had been cancelled.

Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) told Yahoo News Singapore that its Bali airport counter had been operating since the morning of 27 November 2017, at varying timings based on operational requirements.  A contact number was also left for Singaporeans to call outside of the operating hours of the counter, MFA added.

Nisa Anuar, her cousin Shah Ali (in cap) and their family friend Sri Rahayu (right) speaking with Yahoo News Singapore senior correspondent Nicholas Yong. (PHOTO: Nurul Azliah / Yahoo News Singapore)

Long way home

After a long and fruitless international call with a Scoot official in Singapore, the family decided to make their own travel arrangements. With four elderly people and several young children in tow, Faizal and Shah explained that they were concerned about what would happen if Mount Agung erupted again.

“We just worried that if it erupted, we might be stuck there for months,” said Faizal.

Nisa also took issue with what she felt was Scoot’s poor customer service. The family members were informed that they had to be at the airport on the day of their flights to find out about alternative travel arrangements, which were also not guaranteed.

“You cannot expect the 18 of us to be at the airport waiting for five to eight hours, and then get nothing out of it.  We expected Scoot to be more responsive, to indicate clearly in the e-mail what they can offer and be very clear in whether the transfer (to Surabaya) has to be borne by ourselves. It was very vague,” said Nisa.

In response to queries from Yahoo News Singapore, Scoot said that passengers booked for travel to and from Bali between 27 November and 4 December period were given the option of cancelling their bookings for a full refund, rebooking themselves onto other Bali flights or to other destinations.

“Change fees are waived, but fare differences may apply,” said the airline in a travel advisory posted on its website on 27 November.

Regarding the Denpasar airport closure, Scoot said its staff “tried their best” to assist affected passengers. This included providing free coach transportation to Surabaya where passengers were put on “Surabaya–Singapore flights on top of the refund/rebooking options”.

“We had to do our own searching for the drivers in Bali, we had to fork out our own money,” said Nisa, who added that the family will be seeking compensation from Scoot.

Asked how it felt to be home, she replied, “Good, very good. I just want to sleep.”

This story was updated at 1.45pm on 4 December 2017 to reflet Scoot’s response to Yahoo News Singapore’s queries.

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