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Iceland holidays: Is it safe to visit and what are your rights?

Photo of Jacob LewisPhoto of Jacob Lewis
By Jacob Lewis

27 March 20247 min read

Iceland, nicknamed the ‘land of ice and fire’ for its dramatic landscape sculpted by volcanic eruptions, geysers, and glaciers, is a popular tourist destination. But the very forces that make the country so visually stunning are now putting at risk the holiday plans of many, as the island enters what scientists say may be a new era of seismic activity.

This latest eruption is part of a series of volcanic events that began heating up the Reykjanes Peninsula back in 2021. The situation became serious enough in November of 2023 that the town of Grindavík had to be evacuated due to magma moving underground. The most recent spike in activity began on 16 March, following a series of earthquakes.

With some areas around the volcano closed off as a precaution, including the popular Blue Lagoon, the eruptions have understandably raised concerns among travellers and residents in Iceland. While the situation is dynamic, authorities are closely monitoring the eruption and its potential impact.

With the memory of the 2010 volcanic eruption that disrupted air travel across Europe, some may be questioning the safety and practicality of travelling to or from Iceland.

Here, we explain your consumer rights and entitlements if a natural disaster strikes and what to do if you have a holiday planned to Iceland.

Iceland travel advice

Can I depart from Iceland if I'm already there?

If you are currently in Iceland, departing the country largely depends on the status of Keflavík International Airport. As of now, the airport is functioning normally, with no disruptions to flights reported. However, should the situation change, airlines such as British Airways and easyJet have stated they will contact customers directly. It's important to note that currently, changing flights may incur a penalty as standard flight change rules apply.

What about package holidays and insurance?

Travelling to Iceland is still considered safe by the Foreign Office, meaning package holidays will proceed as usual. However, if you're booked to stay at specific closed locations like the Blue Lagoon, a popular hotel and thermal spa that has temporarily closed, you may be eligible for cancellation.

When it comes to travel insurance, standard policies generally do not cover cancellations. Check with your insurance provider for specifics.

Is it safe to travel to Iceland now?

According to the Foreign Office, travel to Iceland is still possible. The Icelandic authorities are closely monitoring the situation, especially around the Reykjanes peninsula in the southwest of the island. While there is no ongoing eruption, the possibility remains, and travellers are advised to stay informed and follow local authority guidance.

What tourist areas are closed?

Currently, the Blue Lagoon, one of Iceland's top tourist attractions, is temporarily closed due to seismic activity. This closure includes associated facilities like the Silica Hotel and Lava Restaurant. The Northern Light Inn near the Blue Lagoon is also closed temporarily.

Could this cause similar disruption to the 2010 volcanic eruption?

While the situation is reminiscent of the 2010 eruption, which significantly disrupted air travel, it's important to recognize each volcanic event is unique. The 2010 incident involved a specific set of circumstances, including the eruption type and meteorological conditions, that led to widespread travel chaos due to a large dust cloud. Current indications suggest a different scenario, but it remains crucial to monitor the situation. There is some concern that a large dust cloud could be formed if an eruption occurs on the seabed, which is still a possibility.

Natural disaster travel advice

What are the basic consumer rights for UK holidaymakers affected by natural disasters?

UK holidaymakers have specific rights under the Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations 2018. If a natural disaster occurs, these rights include a full refund or alternative arrangements if the holiday can't proceed as planned. Additionally, the travel company must provide assistance if you're stranded abroad due to a natural disaster.

The Foreign Office is not advising against travel. Can I get a refund for my holiday?

This will be up to your tour operator, airline or other holiday provider. They are not obliged to offer a full refund if the authorities say that a destination is safe and your holiday is still running. However, on a case by case basis many firms are receptive to customer concerns and may rearrange travel for a later date or alternative destination at their own discretion.

If a natural disaster occurs before the holiday begins, can I get a refund?

Yes, if a natural disaster significantly affects your holiday or the transportation to get there, you are entitled to a full refund. This includes situations where the Foreign Office advises against travel to the destination.

What does the term ‘force majeure’ mean?

In the context of consumer rights for holidays, ‘force majeure’ refers to unforeseen and uncontrollable events that may prevent a holiday or travel plan from going ahead as agreed.

Commonly known as ‘acts of God,’ these include natural disasters like earthquakes or severe weather. In such cases, travel companies might invoke a force majeure clause in their contracts, absolving them from liability to fulfil the contract due to these extraordinary circumstances. This can impact the rights of consumers to refunds or compensation for disrupted travel plans. For example, airlines are not obliged to offer compensation for natural disasters that are out of their control.

What if I'm already on holiday when a natural disaster occurs?

If you're already on holiday, your travel provider is responsible for ensuring your safety and making alternative arrangements, which may include a different return journey or accommodation. If these changes significantly alter your holiday, you may also be eligible for a refund.

Are airlines obligated to assist if my flight is cancelled due to a natural disaster?

Airlines must provide assistance, such as food, drink, and accommodation if necessary, in the event of cancellations due to natural disasters. However, in extraordinary circumstances like natural disasters, you will not be entitled to any additional compensation for flight cancellations.

What about travel insurance coverage in natural disasters?

Travel insurance policies vary, but many include coverage for natural disasters. It's crucial to check your policy's terms and conditions to understand what is covered. Policies sometimes cover cancellations, medical expenses, or additional accommodation costs.

In rare cases, travel insurance policies also allow you to cancel for any reason, for example if you feel unsure about travelling to a destination even when the authorities say that it is safe to travel.

Can I claim compensation from my travel company if my holiday experience is ruined by a natural disaster?

Claiming compensation solely for a ruined holiday experience due to a natural disaster is challenging, as these are typically considered beyond the control of travel providers.

What should I do if I'm not satisfied with my travel provider's response to a natural disaster?

If you're unhappy with how your travel provider has handled the situation, first raise the issue with them directly. If unresolved, you can escalate the complaint to the relevant trade association, such as ABTA (The Association of British Travel Agents) or ATOL (Air Travel Organiser's Licence), or seek legal advice.

Are there any official sources for guidance during a natural disaster abroad?

The Foreign Office provides up-to-date travel advice, including safety information during natural disasters. See gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.

What kind of holiday should I book for the most peace of mind if I’m worried about a natural disaster?

Booking a package holiday is a wise choice if you want maximum protection for your holiday plans. Package holidays, where transport and accommodation are bundled together from a single provider, offer enhanced financial protection and clear-cut responsibilities in the event of a disruption.

Make sure you book with an ATOL-licenced tour operator to ensure that if your holiday is interrupted by a natural disaster as you're more likely to get a refund or assistance without additional expenses. All holidays booked via TravelSupermarket are ATOL protected.

With a package holiday, there is also a clear point of contact – the tour operator. In case of a natural disaster, the operator is responsible for your safety and must provide assistance, making alternative arrangements if necessary.

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