Ash Cloud of Controversy

With almost 600,000 people affected by the recent Icelandic volcano eruption, this April’s hot topic has been the ash crisis.  This eruption, which has received as much coverage as the election has affected not only those who have travelled but also people with family and friends stranded away from home.

Recent reports show that long-haul travellers have been the hardest hit.  Almost three weeks after the initial eruption, it is estimated that over 8,000 British passengers are still stranded in India and Pakistan.  It is only now as the dust begins to settle that the true impact is beginning to hit home.

Speaking from experience, Head of Commercial Litigation at Black Solicitors LLP, Luke Patel, has a client stuck in India who still cannot return.  Their situation is further complicated by the fact that they have young children.  Currently, this family is in a hotel in Mumbai and incurring costs by the day.  Like many others in the same situation they are now in a dispute with the airline that presently will not pay compensation.

“Under European law, all flights operating within the European Union and flying from a UK airport are required to provide compensation to passengers whose flights are either cancelled or delayed.  However, passengers are not entitled to any compensation if the cancellation or delay was caused by ‘extraordinary circumstances’ or ‘an act of God’, which includes adverse weather conditions.” said Mr Patel.

“The airlines and tour operators have claimed that the volcanic cloud is covered by this exception and they should not be required to pay any compensation for cancelled or delayed flights.

“To confuse matters further, this is contradicted by the same regulations which state that airlines are required to provide alternative travel arrangements and assist passengers with accommodation, meals and transport.  So what is the truth?

“Some companies have, albeit reluctantly, accepted that they’re legally obliged to pay the hotel bill for stranded passengers until they can provide a return flight.  However, most are still refusing to pick up the bill on the grounds that it has been caused by ‘extraordinary circumstances.’

“Because of this lack of cooperation, many are turning to their travel insurers to claim from their policies, but are facing similar responses.  This is particularly the case with long-haul travellers stuck abroad.

“So the advice I can offer is if your airline, tour operator or travel insurer declines to pay the additional costs you have incurred during your extended stay, seek advice and lodge your complaint in writing when you return to the UK.

“Start with the airline, tour operator or insurer and if they turn down your claim, your next step is to contact the Air Transport Users Council (AUC), Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) or Financial Services Ombudsman (FSO).

“Travellers affected by this recent situation have a right to feel let down and there is no quick answer to fix the problem, however if you follow the steps outlined above, make sure that you have proof of all expenses incurred, be patient and you should receive some return.   Consumer groups and politicians are both piling on the pressure to airlines to provide recompense ‘reasonable receipted expenses’ to all passengers, so don’t lose all faith just yet.

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