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Home Tourist Attraction Iceland volcano 2024: Is it safe to travel and is the eruption affecting flights?

Iceland volcano 2024: Is it safe to travel and is the eruption affecting flights?

by Staff

A second eruption occurred near the town of Grindavik on Sunday.

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A volcano erupted on Sunday on Iceland’s Reykjanes Peninsula for the second time after thousands of small quakes rocked the southwest coast.

The eruption began on 14 January just before 8am local time about 4km northeast of Grindavik, whose residents were evacuated before the event. 

Hours later, a second fissure opened near the edge of town and lava crept toward the homes.

Despite lying just 20 km north of the eruption site, Keflavik International Airport – Iceland’s main international airport – remains open and flights are still arriving and departing. The roads around Grindavik are closed, however.

If you are planning on travelling to or from the affected area, here are the full details on advice from European governments and airlines.

How long will Iceland’s volcano eruption last?

The Grindavik community was previously evacuated in November following a series of earthquakes that opened large cracks in the earth between the town and Sýlingarfell, a small mountain to the north. 

The volcano eventually erupted on 18 December, and residents were allowed to return to their homes on 22 December.

In the weeks since then, emergency workers have been building defensive walls around Grindavik, but the barriers weren’t complete and lava is moving toward the community, the meteorological office said.

Before last month’s eruption, the Svartsengi volcanic system north of Grindavik had been dormant for around 780 years. The volcano is just a few kilometres west of Fagradalsfjall, which was dormant for 6,000 years before flaring to life in March 2021.

Unlike the previous event, Sunday’s eruption at Svartsengi produced a “very rapid flow” of lava that moved south toward Grindavik, said Kristín Jónsdóttir of the Met Office.

“Luckily, we got some warnings, so we got increased earthquake activity, and this was all communicated towards the civil protection, so the town of Grindavik was evacuated,” she said.

On Monday, scientists said that the eruption appeared to be dying down, but it was too soon to declare the danger over.

Iceland’s president Gudni Th. Johannesson said in a televised address late Sunday that “a daunting period of upheaval has begun on the Reykjanes peninsula” where a long-dormant volcanic system has awakened.

Iceland’s volcano eruption ‘is not a tourist attraction’

Icelandic authorities declared a state of emergency in November after hundreds of small earthquakes shook the Reykjanes Peninsula – the island nation’s most populated region. 

“This is not a tourist attraction and you must watch it from a great distance,” Vidir Reynisson, head of Iceland’s Civil Protection and Emergency Management, told national broadcaster RUV.

The eruptive fissure is about 4km long, with the northern end just east of Stóra-Skógfell and the southern end just east of Sundhnúk.

Yet the spectacular natural phenomenon is hard for people to resist. “It’s just [like] something from a movie!” said Robert Donald Forrester III, a tourist from the United States.

For local residents, the emotions are mixed. “The town involved might end up under the lava,” said Ael Kermarec, a French tour guide living in Iceland. “It’s amazing to see but, there’s kind of a bittersweet feeling at the moment.”

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Have flights to Iceland been cancelled?

Despite concerns over the impact the eruption will have on travel, nearby Keflavik Airport remains operational. Icelandic airport operator ISAVIA advises passengers to monitor flight information here.

Volcanic eruptions can pose a serious hazard to air travel as ash released into the atmosphere can cause jet engines to fail, damage flight control systems and reduce visibility.

However, Sunday’s eruption on the Reykjanes Peninsula isn’t expected to release large amounts of ash into the air.

There haven’t been cancellations or significant delays at Keflavik International Airport due to the eruption. Icelandair says there has been no impact on its flight schedule, and Play says it does not expect any disruptions to its schedule.

Most airlines have said that they will directly contact customers if this changes. Passengers have been advised to keep a close eye on messages from their airline.

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A major eruption in Iceland in April 2010 caused widespread disruption to air travel between Europe and North America. The quarter of a billion cubic metres of volcanic ash it ejected into the air led to more than 100,000 flights being cancelled over an eight-day period.

Though there had been fears of a repeat, Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted under circumstances that contributed to the immense size of its ash cloud. A glacier on top of it caused meltwater to rapidly cool the lava, creating tiny particles which were launched into the air by the steam produced in the eruption. These were then carried on the wind towards Europe.

The recent eruption took place under very different circumstances lowering the chances of similar flight chaos. In the past three years, three eruptions have taken place on the Reykjanes Peninsula with no impact on air travel. 

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is also better prepared for a major volcanic ash event. 

“In the event of an eruption and development of an ash cloud, the agency will work with other aviation actors to assess the impact for aviation and make recommendations accordingly,” a statement on the EASA’s website from November reads. 

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Is it safe to travel to Iceland?

Various European foreign offices have advised travellers to stay away from Grindavik and respect local restrictions. They direct travellers to the Icelandic Met Office and Safe Travel Iceland for the latest advice.

The UK’s Foreign Office said in updated travel advice for Iceland: “All roads to Grindavík are closed and you should stay away from the area.

“Keflavik International airport is operating as normal, but you should check for latest updates. Reykjavik and the rest of Iceland have not been impacted.

“You should monitor local media for updates and follow the authorities’ advice.”

They have said that the eruption area is closed until further notice and urge people to respect the closure. However, they have not advised against travel to the country altogether.

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Visitors are advised to stay away from the area surrounding the eruption, and to follow the directions and guidance of the local authorities.

Countries have not issued a ‘no-go’ travel warning for Iceland meaning that airlines and holiday companies are operating as normal and travellers who cancel their bookings have no automatic right to a refund.

“For those concerned about travel insurance coverage, and whether cancelling a trip is best, we’d advise travellers to exercise common sense and travel wisely,” says Jonathan Frankham, general manager of travel insurance company World Nomads.

“It’s important to note that policies purchased after the earthquakes and consequential volcanic eruption became a ‘known event’ are unlikely to be covered, but we recommend checking your policy wording for exact details.”

He advises tourists to contact their airline or travel provider for assistance and the latest information.

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The Blue Lagoon geothermal spa – one of Iceland’s biggest tourist attractions – temporarily closed on 9 November after being hit by earthquakes. It finally reopened on 12 January but has now been forced to shut again until at least 16 January. 

“Following an increase in seismic activity detected in the area on the previous night, we took the precautionary measure of evacuating all our operational units. The current eruption site is at a safe distance from Blue Lagoon,” an update on its website reads.

“Consequently, we will remain closed until Tuesday. Further updates and information will be provided here as they become available.

“All guests with bookings during this temporary closure period will be contacted. Guests wishing to modify or cancel their bookings are kindly directed to use the My Booking portal.”

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