Ash clouds, hurricanes, snowstorms… The 21st century seems intent on showing us that the natural world still holds sway over the doings of mere mortals, despite our technological savvy.
Do you know your rights when it comes to travel cancellations and delays? Having been at the mercy of not only the weather but of air traffic control strikes several times over the past few years, I’m still amazed by how little I really know about what I’m entitled to when it comes to travel disruption. But with airlines, holiday companies and hotels often all-too-keen to evade their responsibilities, we’re being urged to ensure that we do fully investigate our rights when something goes wrong.
The good news is that if you're flying with an airline based in the European Union, or with a non-EU airline that is flying from an EU airport, you may now be entitled to compensation if your flight is delayed by more than three hours, not just if it’s cancelled (EC Regulation 261/2004).
Many people are confused as to what their travel insurance covers and doesn’t cover. For instance, even if you choose to cancel a holiday due to dramatically adverse weather such as a hurricane, or a bomb threat or civil unrest, you won’t be able to claim unless the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (fco.org.uk) has actually warned against travelling to the destination in question. You should always ask though – some airlines might let customers delay their trip and rebook for another time, subject to availability, while others will refuse to budge. Be warned that these days some airlines have ash cloud exclusions.
With insurance policy wording often longwinded and sometimes difficult to decode, where can we look for help in the quagmire? There are several very good sources of advice and information, including the website of consumer rights champion Which (which.co.uk). You have to pay for full access to the site, but it may a wise investment – its Travel Rights section has clear guides on your legal protection and what to do if things go wrong, including flights, ferries, trains, cruises and package holidays.
Another fantastic source of up-to-date information on passenger rights (refunds, compensation, and food and drink vouchers) for those whose flight is delayed, cancelled or overbooked is the Civil Aviation Authority (caa.co.uk/passengers), which has a template letter for beginning a claim against an airline. Travel trade body ABTA (abta.com) has a consumer zone that is particularly useful if you've booked a holiday with an ABTA member, who must abide by its Code of Conduct when it comes to amending bookings, responding to complaints and so on. Other useful topics include financial compensation for ruined holidays.
Lastly, there’s the Citizens Advice Bureau's Adviceguide (adviceguide.org.uk), a goldmine of travel advice whether you're travelling independently or on a package, or HolidayTravelWatch (holidaytravelwatch.net), with information on dealing with problems while you're away on a package holiday and following up claims when you're home.
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