/ Travel & Leisure

Icelandic ash clouds return – airlines must put travellers first

Icelandic ash cloud

Icelandic ash clouds are back, teasing more chaos for holidaymakers and the airline industry. Ash from Iceland’s Grimsvotn volcano is expected to reach the UK tomorrow, but will our rights be upheld this time around?

We’ve just conducted research to find out people’s travel plans for the summer. Half of the population plans to holiday in the UK, and the reason 5% give for wanting to stay at home? They were put off by all the travel disruption in 2010.

Last night’s news of another volcano erupting in Iceland therefore filled me with dread. My thoughts raced back to last year’s disruption and the millions of people who were stranded either trying to get out of the UK, or get back in.

This year could be a little different. Although Iceland’s Grimsvotn volcano is currently spurting out ash, UK airspace may not need to be closed. The industry’s apparently learnt a lot from last year’s crisis, with the Civil Aviation Authority explaining that it now knows planes can put up with a certain concentration of ash. Fingers crossed flights won’t be restricted this time around.

Your flight rights in an ash cloud crisis

When Europe’s airspace was first closed following the eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano, I was asked for advice on how long the disruption would last and what they should do. Not being a meteorologist, I felt very ill-equipped to give predictions about the atmospheric conditions, but as for advice on the rights of flight ticket holders – this was much easier to give.

When flights are cancelled, regardless of the reason, passengers should be offered a full refund or the option of re-routing to your final destination. The airlines will also have to ‘look after you’ until you can catch your new flight, where looking after you involves paying for food, drink, and if necessary, hotel accommodation.

However, if you booked yourself holiday extras, such as accommodation or car hire, airlines won’t have to compensate you for any of this. This means that unless you’ve bought a package holiday, you’ll incur hefty cancellation charges for extras you can’t physically get to.

It may be possible to claim for these losses on your travel insurance, but you’ll need to check your individual policy, many of which may now have specific ‘ash cloud exclusions’ built in.

Airlines must get it right this time

Cancelled flights will always cause travel disruption which in itself will cause high levels of worry and stress. Last year, the volcano came as a huge surprise with over two million Brits being directly affected. But we’ve learned so many lessons on how not to deal with the situation.

Iceland’s airports are currently closed, but should more flights need to be cancelled this year, we fully expect the entire travel industry to work together to provide the necessary assistance for stranded passengers.

If not, they’ll have airports bursting with unhappy holidaymakers to answer to.


An update on this, the volcanic ash has started to affect flights to and from Scotland and the north. Airports affected include Londonderry, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Prestwick, Durham Tees Valley, Newcastle and Carlisle.

A number of airlines have announced cancellations – you can find more about this on the BBC and make sure you read up on your rights with us before you head off: http://www.which.co.uk/news/2011/05/volcanic-ash-affects-uk-flights-254296/

British airports have started operating normally after this week’s volcanic ash disruption, but experts say the cloud could still cause problems over the bank holiday weekend… http://www.which.co.uk/news/2011/05/flights-resume-after-ash-cloud-cancellations-254504/

Fingers crossed it isn’t a problem over the following weeks. My mum needs to get back from France! Though I’m sure you wouldn’t mind sticking in France and taking more time off work 🙂

When will people stop relying on these Met office “models” and actually do a bit of sampling. When the airlines fly through the “ash clouds” they find little or nothing even in the “most dense” part of the cloud (according to the model). The models are rubbish, if they were any good they could forecast the weather and we know how good they are at doing that.