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The Traveller's Magazine
  •   3 min read

As of last night the blanket ban on UK and parts of European airspace was slowly being lifted. Less than half of the normally scheduled flights will take off today from Heathrow and Gatwick but it is a start. Airlines are so backed up, they are concentrating now on bringing their stranded crew and aircraft home from abroad and getting tens of thousands of passengers to where they need to be as well. What are your options if your flight’s been cancelled or postponed?

Many passengers with cancelled or pending flights have expressed anxiety and fear of either losing their money, missing their vacation (or their own wedding!) or not wanting to take the chance of flying out of fear. When something as serious as a ban on airspace due to natural disaster happens, the longest in living memory, its only natural to panic and worry. Almost 100,000 flights have been cancelled since last Thursday afternoon when Eyjafjallajokull in Iceland first began spewing lava and ash into the sky. Now one of the only questions on traveller’s mind is, “who’s going to pay? I’ve unexpectedly had to extend my vacation for nearly a week, what about my expenses and inconveniences while I was stranded around the world?” There is a lot of information spilling out about insurance claims, refunds and how to do it, so we’ve simplified it, trying to make it clear what your options are.

Airline companies and cancelled flights

  • Will I be reimbursed? This is the question that everyone is asking. The law suggests that European airlines (including low cost airlines which are registered in Europe) should take full responsibility to refund passengers who have cancelled flights or postponed flights. Passengers should also be compensated for any incurred costs due to these cancellations. This is a law that many airlines are struggling with, in part due to the sheer number of stranded passengers requiring basic needs like food and accommodations. Unfortunately no non-EU airline is held by this law but we hope that many will acknowledge it by at least getting their passengers to their destinations, eventually, without additional charges.
  • How to do it? First of all, contact your airline (preferably by email or by the method indicated on their website, since help lines and customer service lines are completely saturated). If you bought your airline ticket on a travel agency website (Opodo, Expedia, lastminute.com…) you should contact this merchant first before the airline. Be patient and understanding, with the amount of complaints and demands it is likely that any sort of refund will not be delivered for several weeks and that you won’t get a reply for at least a couple of days. Airline companies are dealing with huge losses financially, and are already asking the European Union for help.
  • Cancellation insurance: If you bought insurance at the time you purchased your airline ticket, it might not be valid. In some cases cancellation due to natural disasters is not included in some of these insurance policies. Cancellation insurance in particular is meant to cover you in case a personal situation prevents you from flying at your scheduled time. As with banking insurance, there is a limit that is covered and it is the decision of the company where to cap it. Check what your insurance policy covers and how much you are eligible to claim.

Tour operators and cancelled trips/excursions

  • I cannot return to the UK: If you are stranded abroad, the tour operator has the right to do everything in its power to return you home, but is not obliged to cover the costs immediately, especially if your delay is due to natural causes. It depends entirely on the tour operator.
  • I cannot leave for my vacation: If you cannot depart on the tour or excursion you have reserved, the agency or tour operator must offer alternative dates or a refund. Some organizations (the SNAV in France for example) are recommending agencies to postpone trips for 6 months with no charge to the travellers. If this applies for your trip, you are not obliged to accept and can request a full refund if you so choose. Agencies however are not required by law to reimburse you, as airlines are so you could be getting yourself into a lot of paperwork.

Our advice: Keep all of your receipts and bills while you are stranded or waiting to take off as proof of your expenses in case that you are offered compensation for your inconveniences.

Are you stranded by the #ashtag (poetically taken from twitter)? What have your experiences been with your airline, tour operator, airport? Tell us about them!

Image source: Garry DeLong


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