Will Iceland's erupting volcano affect my flight? Here's what we know so far
Is history repeating? In an echo of the chaos of April 2010, an Icelandic volcano has violently erupted, spewing lava and sparking fears of flight delays and cancellations.
On the face of it, there’s good reason for concern as the Fagradalsfjall volcano sits just 20 miles from Reykjavik airport. However, the relatively small size of the eruption has meant no flight disruption so far and the minimal impact of a similar event last year suggests widespread travel chaos is not imminent. Indeed, you might have to rely on the UK’s struggling airports and airlines to ruin your holiday instead.
This is in stark contrast to a decade ago, when the gigantic ash cloud emitted by the rather unpronounceable Eyjafjallajökull volcano in the south of the country caused more than 100,000 flight cancellations in a week.
Here we run through the key questions surrounding Iceland’s latest volcanic eruption and what it might mean for your upcoming holiday.
When did the eruption start?
Fagradalsfjall began erupting on Wednesday (August 3) after weeks of increasing earthquake activity in the area. Immediately, officials ordered a ‘code red’ alert, which banned planes from flying directly above the area, though this could soon be downgraded and has not impacted flight schedules.
Fagradalsfjall continues to spew lava and it is so far unclear when it will stop. The same volcano saw an eruption last year – its first in 6,000 years – which lasted for six months, but remained localised and did not impact international travel. In fact, it drew more tourists to the country who were desperate to see it up close.
As Iceland is located between two tectonic plates (the Eurasian and North American), it experiences frequent earthquakes and volcanic activity. There have been seven significant eruptions during the 21st century, with experts predicting they could become more frequent in the coming years.
Will my flight be cancelled?
It seems unlikely the eruption will cause significant travel disruption, particularly if it follows the pattern of last year’s eruption which remained relatively small, albeit long-lasting.
Iceland’s Foreign Ministry confirmed travel was running smoothly, stating: "Currently, there has been no disruption to flights to and from Iceland and international flight corridors remain open."
Elsewhere, budget Icelandic airline Play has sought to ease any passenger concerns.
A statement on its website reads: “The eruption is small, poses no threats to infrastructure or inhabitants in the area. Keflavik International Airport is open and incoming flights are getting a truly spectacular view!”
Why did the 2010 Eyjafjallajokull eruption cause travel chaos?
Around 10 million passengers were impacted when the ice-covered Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted in April 2010, coinciding nicely with the end of the Easter holidays. More than 100,000 flights were cancelled in just a week, with passengers left stuck in their holiday destinations. Transatlantic routes were among the most affected, in what was the largest flight grounding since the Second World War. Of course, the Covid-19 pandemic has since eclipsed this feat.
The reason for the outsized impact was the high level of ash and smoke the volcano spewed into the atmosphere (and European airspace). Despite its proximity to Reyjavik, the relatively diminutive size of Fagradalsfjall’s eruption should mean that chaos is avoided.
Can I see the eruption if I’m in Iceland?
Fagradalsfjall’s six-month-long eruption last year became something of a tourist attraction, with locals and visitors alike hiking up hills eager to catch a glimpse of the molten rock fountains.
Perhaps sensing a similar appetite for lava, Icelandic officials have urged people “not to approach the new volcanic eruption until further notice as the situation is uncertain and it is possible that pollution could be detected due to gas release.”
Hikers have also been advised to show extra caution when walking in the surrounding Reykanes peninsula due to an increased risk of rockfall and landslides. For more information on traveller safety in Iceland and the volcanic eruption, visit safetravel.is.
Am I protected if my flight is cancelled due to a volcanic eruption?
If your flight does happen to be impacted by a volcanic eruption, there is no guarantee you will be compensated by your insurer, as many do not provide standard cover for natural disasters. However, it can often be added on. Always read the small print on your policy before booking to be sure of inclusions.
For more advice on what most travel insurers do and do not cover, read our guide.