Update 20 April, 7pm: Due to the fast-moving nature of this crisis, we've written a new Volcanic cloud Q&A guide packed full of extra info.
Flights are grinding to a halt today as ash from Iceland's volcanic eruption moves into UK airspace.
All UK airports had suspended non-emergency flights by late morning. Scottish airports shut themselves to air traffic even earlier. Heathrow and Gatwick alone carry 260,000 passengers a day.
Forecasters believe the ash could take a number of days to disperse meaning delays and cancellations could continue into the weekend (see the Cheap Flights guide).
Airlines such as British Airways (BA) state that if your flight is cancelled, don't travel to the airport.
If you're affected, below are your rights...
Will I get a refund?
- If your flight is cancelled at short notice. Airlines must normally either give you a full refund of any unused ticket or offer suitable alternative travel, though the latter option may prove tricky for now.
- If your flight is delayed. If by over five hours, you can choose not to travel on the delayed flight and get a refund for that trip and later flights on the same ticket.
- If taking a connecting flight. Whether it's cancelled or delayed, if you no longer wish to continue, you are entitled to your money back and a free flight back to your departure point.
- How to claim. Contact your airline.
Will I get extra compensation?
You should get food if stuck at the airport for over two hours for a short-haul flight, for up to four hours on medium/long haul.
You should also get overnight accommodation, if appropriate. British Airways, for instance, says it will provide hotel rooms on a case-by-case basis. For example, if you're from overseas and have nowhere to go you're more likely to get accommodation than someone who lives in London and is due to fly from London.
It's unlikely you'll get anything more than your money back or food/accommodation because the volcanic ash is out of the airline's control, and extra compensation is only due when the airline is at fault.
What if I had a hotel/car hire booked at the other end I cannot use?
Contact the relevant provider to get a refund. If unsuccessful, see the travel insurance section below.
If I booked a package?
If your trip's delayed/cancelled, you should either be offered alternative transport or an alternative holiday. If that's unsuitable, you'll get a full refund.
Will travel insurance pay out?
Insurance is complicated so there is no universal answer as each insurer is different, so contact your provider for help (see the Travel Insurance guide).
As your airline costs are likely to be covered, you'll usually only need to claim for additional, non-refundable bookings such as accommodation and car hire.
Some insurers may decline a claim as natural disasters can be excluded from policies, while you may also get rejected if your flight is cancelled as insurers say it then becomes the airline's responsibility to cover all costs.
Not all firms will reject claims outright, so check.
If I paid on a credit card?
The cover you get under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act for items over £100 is unlikely to come into force. If you're claiming for delayed/cancelled transport, this should be covered by the airline.
If claiming for hotel costs or alternative transport then, as Section 75 only kicks in when the retailer has broken their contract, as the hotel firm/alternative transport provider has done nothing wrong, it's unlikely you'll get any joy (see the Section 75 Refunds guide).
Further reading / Key links