Amid hundreds of flights delayed since Wednesday night, the country's largest low-cost carrier Lion Air decided to cancel all flights scheduled to depart from Soekarno-Hatta International Airport between 5 p.m. and 12 p.m. on Friday, aiming to use all its resources to handle thousands of passengers stranded at the airport.
Lion Air general affairs director Edward Sirait said the decision was made to prevent a further damaged situation following the series of flight delays since Wednesday night.
"We will provide refunds and also a chance for passengers to reschedule their flights to between Monday and Wednesday next week," Edward said in a press conference on Friday at Soekarno-Hatta's Terminal 3.
Edward said that the problem began when three aircraft operated by Lion Air experienced "foreign object damage" that led to a disruption of the airline's aircraft rotation.
Without mentioning the exact figure, Edward said the damage led to hundreds of delayed flights with around 2,000 passengers affected.
Although the airline is currently operating 93 aircraft with 81 routes, with an additional six substitute aircraft located in Batam, Surabaya and Makassar, Edward claimed that it was not that easy to immediately mobilize the substitute aircraft to serve the stranded passengers.
The situation was worsened by the fact that Lion Air was unable to refund thousands of passengers stranded at the airport, saying that no staff were available and no banks were open on Thursday during the Chinese New Year holiday.
He said the airline only had Rp 1.5 billion (S$159,000) in cash at the airport, which according to Edward was not enough to pay all the passengers.
Such a dragging situation is a setback to the recent aggressive expansion of the airline's parent company, Lion Group, including striking two of the world's largest plane-order deals worth $46 billion and plans for a 2016 initial public offering.
Due to the absence of Lion Air staff members amid the chaos, state-owned airport operator PT Angkasa Pura II (AP II) decided to begin the refund process for passengers on Friday morning, allocating around Rp 4 billion from its own coffers.
AP II spokesperson Achmad Syahir said that up until Friday night, the airport operator had only disbursed a total of Rp 526 million in refunds to around 500 passengers.
The refunds included the ticket price, passenger service charge and Rp 300,000 in compensation in accordance with Transportation Ministerial Regulation No. 77/2011 on air transportation providers' responsibilities.
"This is just part of our service as airport operator, since the delayed flights have affected the airport's operations," Achmad said.
Some passengers were forced to spend the night in the airport's waiting room hoping for certainty from Lion Air.
Lina Febriani, 23, who should have departed for Semarang at 2 p.m. on Thursday, said she boarded the plane at 11 p.m., only to be left stranded inside the airplane for three hours until 2 a.m. on Friday.
"We received no explanation from the airline's staff even after we were stranded on the apron for hours," Lina said.
The Transportation Ministry's airline safety director, Yurlis Hasibuan, questioned the explanation given by the airline, asking why damage to three aircraft led to hundreds of delayed flights.
"We will investigate the reason behind this and we have to look into the airline's aircraft rotation management," Yurlis told The Jakarta Post. "We will also urge them to improve their refund management since the airport operator, a state-owned company, should not be paying the refunds," he continued.
Due to the chaos at Terminal 3, Indonesia AirAsia spokesperson Audrey Progastama Petriny said that the airline's flights, both domestic and international, were delayed by up to two-and-a-half hours.
Audrey said a Jakarta-Yogyakarta flight was delayed by 158 minutes while its Jakarta-Denpasar and Jakarta-Surabaya services were delayed by 130 minutes and 90 minutes, respectively.
"Our flights to Singapore and Bangkok were also delayed this morning," she said, adding that sister company Malaysia AirAsia's route from Jakarta-Kuala Lumpur was also late by 55 minutes."