Aug 22, 2014

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Volcanic ash disruption: What are your rights if Bardarbunga erupts?


Eyjafjallajökull caused huge disruption to European air traffic in 2010

If you’ve got a late summer holiday planned, news of activity in Iceland’s Bardarbunga volcano may be worrying you. When another tongue-twistingly named Icelandic volcano, Eyjafjallajökull, erupted in 2010, more than 100,000 flights were cancelled. So, is Bardarbunga about to blow and, if it does, what are your rights if your travel plans are disrupted?

What’s the volcano doing at the moment and should I reschedule my travel plans?

Bardarbunga hasn’t erupted yet, of course, but more than 300 earthquakes have been detected in the area – a national park popular with tourists – and Icelandic authorities have evacuated hundreds of civilians living nearby.

If you have imminent travel plans, keep an eye on the news: the volcano is at alert level orange, one grade below the most serious. If it erupts, Bardarbunga is big enough to disrupt air traffic over the Atlantic, scientists say.

What happens if my flight is cancelled due to volcanic ash?

If Bardarbunga does erupt and the resulting ash cloud causes your flight to be cancelled, you may be entitled to compensation. If you’re due to travel with an EU airline to or from the EU, or out of any EU airport, your airline must offer you a full refund or the option of alternative travel arrangements under the EU261 rules.

What happens if my flight is just delayed?

Again, if you’re travelling with an EU airline (one headquartered in Europe) to or from the EU, or out of any EU airport, you will be protected by the EU261 rules if your flight is delayed. Airlines must offer you a “welfare package” – including food, drinks, two phone calls and possibly overnight accommodation – after a certain number of hours. Our article Am I entitled to compensation for a delayed flight? contains a handy table telling you when you’re entitled to the package.

If your flight is delayed by more than five hours, you can cancel your trip and request a full refund. However, think carefully before you cancel as, once you accept a refund, your airline no longer has to look after you – so you’d have to arrange all onward travel and accommodation yourself, for example.

Does the airline have to compensate me for the delay?

Other than your welfare package, airlines don’t have to pay compensation under EU261 rules if a delay is due to “extraordinary circumstances”. Volcanic ash disruption falls under this category.

What happens if I’m travelling with a non-EU airline?

If you’re travelling with a non-EU airline to a non-EU destination (for example, Manchester to New York with American Airlines), the EU261 regulation only protects the leg of your journey from an EU airport. It won’t cover your return journey from outside the EU – so you’d have to check the policy of the airline you’re travelling with for this part of your trip.

What about my other travel arrangements – hotels and car hire, for example?

If you’ve booked an Atol-backed package holiday (the government scheme covering holidays and flights), you’ll be financially protected should volcanic ash disrupt your trip. If your flight is cancelled and you can no longer leave the UK, you’ll receive a full refund (or the option to rebook the same holiday again at the same price, when it’s available).

Should you be stuck abroad mid-holiday, your extra costs, such as accommodation, will be covered and your holiday company will work to get you home as soon as possible.

However, if you’ve put your trip together yourself, your airline doesn’t have to compensate you for any other elements of the holiday you might miss, such as accommodation, car hire or tours. If you lose money after cancelling these elements, the only way to claim compensation is through your travel insurance policy.

So, will my travel insurer pay out for volcanic ash disruption?

That depends on the T&Cs of your particular policy. So, whether Bardarbunga erupts or not, check your travel insurance small print for clauses relating to ash cloud disruption or catastrophe cover to see what you’d be able to claim for.

If your policy does cover this eventuality, check whether there’s a limit on how much you can claim as a result of the disruption. If you aren’t covered, you may be able to add volcanic ash cover to your policy.

Before you rush to do so, however, ask your insurance company if it will still cover you for disruption due to Bardarbunga – again, that will vary from policy to policy.

I’m worried – can I cancel my travel plans now?

If you decide to cancel your holiday purely as a precaution, you’ll be subject to your travel company’s normal cancellation policy.

Anything else to be aware of about Bardarbunga?
Bob Atkinson

Bob Atkinson

Our travel expert, Bob Atkinson, has the following advice: “At this stage, don’t panic as volcanic regions are constantly in one stage of alert or another and there hasn’t actually been an eruption. I’m travelling myself in the coming week and am not worried at present.

“If you want to book a last-minute break, choose an Atol-backed package for complete protection or ensure your insurance policy covers ash cloud disruption.”

This article has been updated from a previously published version.

For the latest travel updates, follow TravelSupermarket on Twitter

  1. Great advice – thanks!

  2. leanne says:

    This article has been informative and very reassuring….due to fly from man to kos on aug 31st for a special family atol backed package holiday with thomas cook and will be gutted if it’s cancelled but reassured we will be entitled to a full refund, which is what we were worried about. Thank you for your helpful advice.

  3. I questined to issue of a refund with First Choice- should they cancel our holiday becasue of volcanic ash, this was their response:

    “In terms of the threat of Icelandic volcanoes erupting, we’re aware of the situation regarding the volcanic activity and we’ll continue to monitor the situation.

    Should there be an eruption which causes flights to be grounded, we’ll put into place contingency plans to try to ensure as little disruption to passengers as possible.

    As you can see in our terms and conditions of booking ( natural disasters fall into the category of ‘events beyond our control’. In these occasions, we would not pay any compensation as it’s no one’s fault that the flight can’t depart.

    Insurance providers often won’t cover natural disasters either but it’s worth checking your policy and, if it’s something you wish to do, extending your insurance if possible.

    We would aim to keep all customers informed of what’s happening in the event of a delay and we’ll try to provide refreshments and accommodation if possible if a delay is extended. You can check for travel updates on the ‘Travel Alerts’ link on the website, which is located at the top of the page.

    With regards to refunds on holidays not taken due to an ash cloud disrupting plans, this would be assessed on a case-by-case basis and isn’t something we can advise on in advance.”

    I am afraid this is not so reassuring. Can anyone explain the conflicting advice?

    • Hi there
      As you have booked an ATOL backed package holiday you are bound by the booking conditions that apply to that package. As an ATOL licensed company, if you were unable to go on your trip due to aircraft being grounded, First Choice would treat this at first as a delay and if that delay goes over the period in their booking conditions you have the right to abandon the trip and receive a full refund on the money paid to them. You could also re-book for a new date subject to price and availability.
      If you are away and are unable to return home as per your scheduled flight time, First Choice would have to keep you in accommodation (not necessarily that which you are booked into) as well as give you reasonable welfare in terms of food and drink until they could bring you back home. This would be at their cost.
      What you would not be entitled to is any compensation for what is a natural disaster. This is also excluded in the EU261 rules that apply to flights delays and cancellations in the EU.
      If you chose to cancel yourself outside of the scenario above you would be liable for normal cancellation charges.
      In the last major eruption in Iceland, tour operators such as First Choice provided an exceptional level of customer care to their customers both stranded overseas and unable to travel. They were even part of a group of tour operators who chartered a luxury cruise ship to bring people back from Spain who could not fly back.
      I hope this helps explain it for you.

  4. Travelling to Tunisia next week with Thomas Cook and i’m not sure about insurance levels required seeing as it’s not in the EU-especially with regard to ash clouds!!!

    • Hi there

      You need to ensure that you have adequate cover for Tunisia. If you are buying a policy from scratch you usually advise the country you are going to and the policies offered will be then valid for Tunisia. use out price comparison service to help you here;

      For ash clouds, you need not worry with Thomas Cook. As an ATOL backed company they would pick up the tabs if you got stuck out there and could not get home. This includes food and accommodation and they avhe an excellent track record from the events of 2010 in looking after customers to this effect. If you had your outeward flights cancelled they would offer you either a full refund or the opportunity to rebook for a new date.

      Hope this helps.


    • My wife and I are part of a small group going to Iceland in November and the company is ATOL backed.
      Does ATOL cover vary depending on the operator?
      a) Are ATOL backed companies always obliged to refund the value of the holiday if it is cancelled due to an eruption?
      b) Are ATOL backed companies always obliged to offer assistance in the event we are stranded if the eruption occurs during the holiday?



      • Hi there

        ATOL rules are the same for all companies, however individual booking conditions are created by the ATOL holder and these are approved by ATOL in orderfor the licence to be granted.

        In the case of an eruption, if you were effected then all ATOL companies would be obloged to offer relevant assistance and if flights were cancelled while you were there to look after you. If flight cancellations meant you could not travel you would indeed be entitled to a refund or to change the dates of travel subject to any price changes and availability.

        Kind regards


  5. Wendy Gilbert says:

    Hi we are going on a Caribbean fly/cruise with P&O (booked as a package) in November. Have been looking at travel insurance – to add in ash cloud cover is an extra £34 on the premium. Would it be neccessary? We are flying with Thomson Airways from Gatwick.
    Hear from you soon.
    Many Thanks

    • Hi there

      It is totally up to you whether you wish to add it. However if your trip was cancelled as long as you have booked the trip as an ATOL backed package then you would receive full protection from P&O.

      Hope this helps.


  6. vanessa says:

    we are flying with BA from Heathrow to Canada and return following a cruise. Our insurance does not have natural catastrophic cover automatically or as an add on. Would we be covered under the EU rule for volcanic ash etc?

    • Hi there

      It depends on what you mean by ‘covered’. Have you bought this as a package of flight and cruise together or as separate items? I assume you mean what would happen and what are your rights if your flights were affected. Let us know and we can try and give you some guidance.

      Kind regards


  7. helen richards says:

    Thank you for your advice – although I do have a couple of questions if thats ok?
    1. What protection would we get if we were flying Iceland Air? They’re not EU so presumably we would not be protected in the same way as EU flights?
    2. I am travelling with an Icelandic company – Trex.Is, which does not have ATOL. Their official word is that they have a declaration of guarantee through a bank in the event of bankruptcy or the cessation of the travel agency’s operation, according to Icelandic Tourism Administration Act No. 73/2005 (copy available on request). This is similar to the assurances that you would have through UK agencies that have ATOL and ABTA licences.

    I’m wary of using them, so your advice would be helpful!
    Many thanks

  8. roy chamberlain says:

    hi bob, in 2010 myself and my wife went torrevieja in Spain and our flight was delayed for 4 days, due to the ash clouds, do we have a right to make a claim for this, we didn’t know you could do such a thing only found out from some friends this week. If we do how do I do it ??

    • Hi Roy

      You will need to make a claim to your airline as soon as possible as you are approaching the maximum period from when you could make a claim (six years in England and Wales). If your flight was from Scotland you are already too late.

      You will need to make a claim direct with your airline. If you can advise which one I can send you the relevant link to start this off.

      Kind regards


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