Volcanic eruption poses potential disruptionBe prepared with travel insurance

23 May 2011


With fears of the latest volcanic eruption reaching the UK, Which? advice is that adequate travel insurance and awareness of your travel rights is the best route to holiday protection.

The Grimsvotn volcano erupted on Saturday 21 May. The subsequent ash cloud resulted in a no-fly zone around the volcano, closure of Keflavik airport and the cancellation of all domestic flights to and from Iceland. Rochelle Turner, Head of Research for Which? Travel, says:

'We were all taken by surprise when volcanic ash caused widespread disruption last year, but the airlines and the CAA know what to expect now. Hopefully disruption will be minimal, but airlines will have no excuse if they fail to act quickly to inform passengers of delays and cancellations, or to provide the necessary assistance should people find themselves stranded.'

Volcanic ash

If you're due to travel this week and your , the Denied Boarding Regulations say that the airline has an obligation to offer you assistance if your delay is expected to go beyond a certain point. You're entitled to:

  • two free phone calls, faxes or e-mails
  • free meals and refreshments appropriate to the delay
  • free hotel accommodation and hotel transfers if an overnight stay is required
  • choose not to travel and get a refund of your ticket cost if the delay lasts for five hours or more (but the flight is not cancelled).

Help, I'm due to fly

You can ask your airline for written details of your rights under the Denied Boarding Regulation. Your airline is obliged to provide this to you.

My flight is cancelled

If your flight is cancelled , your legal position depends on where you are flying to and from. If you meet all the criteria below, you have the legal protection provided by the Denied Boarding Regulation:

  • you have a confirmed booking
  • you checked in on time (or if no check-in time was given, then at least 45 minutes before your flight was scheduled to depart)
  • you're departing from an EU airport, or from a non-EU airport and flying into an EU airport on a 'community carrier' – essentially an airline with its headquarters and main place of business within the EU. That includes all European discount and 'no-frills' airlines.

In addition to your delay rights, you're also entitled to:

  • a refund within seven days of the full cost of the flight (if your flight wasn't direct and was cancelled part-way through you are entitled to a flight back to your original point of departure and to be refunded in full)
  • re-routing to your final destination at the earliest opportunity
  • re-routing to your final destination at a later date convenient to you.

Travel insurance

The best protection you can have is adequate travel insurance. Quality policies should cover delays and cancellations caused by events beyond the customers' control such as adverse weather conditions.

If you're due to travel in the upcoming days or weeks, you're highly unlikely to find an insurance company who will cover you for insurance claims related to the ash crisis.

However, it's crucial you have travel insurance for any planned trips. You may find your flight is simply delayed and you can make your journey, in which case, not having travel insurance will leave you vulnerable for the remainder of your visit.

Travel tips

1. Download our free iPhone Consumer Rights app so you've your travel rights information at your fingertips.

2. Take a photograph of the departure board detailing your delay or cancellation. It might prove helpful when complaining to an airline or making an insurance claim.

3. If you airline's website confirms they're not flying, take a screen shot or print out so you've a record of this.

Join the debate

Rochelle Turner reflects on last year's ash crisis and warns airlines to get it right this time round. Do you think we've learnt our lesson? Join the ash cloud debate on Which? Conversation.