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