Hundreds could finally receive ash cloud payoutsOmbudsman's decision is great news for consumers

26 April 2011

Air passengers could finally get some money back

Travellers could finally get some money back

Out-of-pocket air travellers could finally receive payouts for the disruption caused by last year's volcanic eruption, thanks to a landmark decision by the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS).

Hundreds of consumers complained to the FOS after their insurance companies refused to pay up over the , despite offering cover for 'adverse weather conditions' in their policy wordings.

Some insurers argued that the ash cloud wasn't weather at all, and was therefore not covered by consumers' insurance policies. But in a recent case, following a complaint from a consumer known only as Ms B, Ombudsman Caroline Mitchell ruled that her insurer's policy wording should have been clearer.

Ash cloud 'moved by the wind'

'I do not consider that it is stretching the ordinary meaning of the words to interpret the cloud of ash moved by the wind as an example of a poor weather condition,' Mitchell wrote in her final decision.

'Consumers who are delayed by atmospheric conditions which they believe to be poor weather conditions would not unreasonably expect this to be covered by the consumer travel policy they have taken out for unexpected eventualities outside their control,' she added.

As a result, Ms B's complaint was upheld, and she was entitled to her travel insurance payout. 

Consumers urged to pursue their claims

Given the huge potential impact of her decision, the Ombudsman could have ordered that Ms B's complaint was taken to court as a test case. But she was not convinced it raised 'an important or novel question of law', as would usually be required for it to be dealt with in court. 

Instead, the issue came down to the policy wording itself, and she said both the Ombudsman and the court would have interpreted that in the same way – that is, in whichever way was less favourable to whoever wrote it (in this case the insurer).

When Which? member Clive Tucker took his case to court earlier this year, the small claims court reached the same decision as the Ombudsman. Although neither decision creates binding precedent, it should give other consumers added incentive to pursue their claims. Which? is now urging anyone who has had their insurance claim turned down, on the basis of the ash cloud 'not being weather', to consider pursuing their claim further.

Expert advice from Which? Travel

There is a time limit dictating when claims can be made if you are taking the issue to the Ombudsman. Generally, this is within six months of receiving a 'final letter' from the company you claimed against – i.e. a letter with words to the effect of: 'this is a final response and if you're not happy with how we've dealt with your claim, you may now contact the FOS'.

If you have not received this kind of letter it may still be possible to claim, even if the six-month time limit has already passed. If you have received this letter but didn't go to FOS in time, then you might like to consider going to the small claims court.

For advice on how to take your claim further, see Which? Travel's guide to .

Join the debate

Were your travel plans thrown off course by the ash crisis? Did you receive any compensation from your insurance provider? Join the debate at Which? Conversation.