Update #2: Flights are resuming normal schedules Tuesday and Scandinavian Airlines is providing an extra flight between Olso and Longyearbyen, with a stop in Tromsø, to accomodate the backlog of passengers.
Update #1: A Norwegian Air flight from Oslo is scheduled to land at about 9:15 p.m. Monday, one hour behind schedule, after skies began clearing during the afternoon. The status of other pending arrivials and departures was still not clear at 8:15 p.m. Monday.
Original story: All commercial and charter flights were cancelled Sunday and early Monday at Svalbard Airport due to dense fog, stranding about 260 people, and officials said the prospects for Monday’s flights are dubious.
“This is a weather phenomenon that can occur in Svalbard in the summer, this is not abnormal,” Airport Manager Morten Ulsnes told NRK. “But we have not had it this bad since 2008. Then there was two or three days where all aircraft were tuned around.”
The fog – caused due to unseasonably warm temperatures that were higher in the mountains than the airport (which reached a high of 13 degrees Celsius on Sunday), thus drawing sea fog inland – is likely to linger throughout Monday despite slightly cooler temperatures, according to the Norwegian Meteorological Institute.
“We don’t know when we’re leaving because we keep getting conflicting information,” said Barbara Weist, a resident of the Phoenix, Ariz., metropolitan area. “The problem is nobody knows what the weather will be, including SAS.”
Two outgoing Scandinavian Airlines flights and two charter flights were cancelled Sunday afternoon and early Monday. An Air Berlin fight scheduled to arrive at 1:30 p.m. Monday afternoon was rescheduled to arrive at 1:20 a.m. Tuesday. The status of three Norwegian Air and Scandinavian Airlines flights, scheduled to arrive between 6:55 p.m. and 11:50 p.m. and depart between 7:55 p.m. Monday and 4:40 a.m. Tuesday remained uncertain as of early Monday afternoon.
Weist and her husband, Dennis, said they were spending part of their extra day in Longyearbyen shopping, but had only until 4 p.m. before the last zodiac shuttle to their ship departed.
Many visitors struggled to contact the airport for updates due to swamped phone lines and to reschedule bookings online via the few free public wi-fi networks that were also swamped. Those who did get through said the backlog of travelers means their problems won’t end after they leave Svalbard.
“We can’t go back until Thursday,” said Mitch Walk, an Orlando resident originally scheduled to arrive home Monday, but unable to rebook a flight until later in the week.
Some travelers planning to return to their home countries from Oslo also found themselves facing fees of thousands of dollars to reschedule flights or transfer to another airline with available seats.
“You can’t just jump from flight to flight these days,” said Ross Greenberg, a New York resident who said he booked through a travel agency who was able to waive most of his rebooking fees.
The other frustration, Greenberg said, is “we are stuck in the middle, anchored out in the water, so we have to go back and forth in zodiacs,” he said.
Walk said passengers from his cruise disembarked Sunday and were scheduled to depart early that afternoon, but the fog meant the buses scheduled to take them to the airport became tour vehicles instead – until yet another mishap occurred when one of the busses slid off the road into a ditch near the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Although a replacement bus was sent to retrieve the group, additional tours weren’t possible because all of the buses had been previously reserved for other groups.