Volcanic cloud: your travel, employment & financial rights

If you're one of the hundreds of thousands stranded by the volcanic ash cloud, this is a full Q&A guide on your refund, employment and financial rights.

With thousands of flights still grounded and holiday plans in tatters, if you're affected, see quick links on:

My flight rights if stuck in the UK (package holidays)
My flight rights if stuck in the UK (DIY holidays)
My flight rights if stranded overseas (package and DIY)
How to reclaim hotel/car hire/other costs
My employment rights if I can't get to work
Bank charges while stranded abroad

What are my flight rights if stuck in the UK (package holidays)?

If your trip's delayed or cancelled, you should either be offered alternative transport or an alternative holiday. If that's unsuitable, you'll get a full refund of all elements of your package (see the Cheap Package Holiday guide).

If you've booked any extras (such as excursions/car hire) outside the package then see the how to reclaim hotel/car hire/other costs section.

What if I need to complain?

There are three steps to take:

  • Step 1: Complain to the airline/tour operator in writing. Hammer home the airline's/tour operator's responsibilities (see the Association of British Travel Agent's (Abta) website for full info).

  • Step 2: Complain to Abta. It has regulatory power to force airlines' and tour operators' hands.

  • Step 3: Try your card company. If you paid by credit card (for flights over £100) or Visa debit card (or Visa credit card for flights under £100).

    Under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, credit card firms are jointly liable with retailers if something goes wrong, if the item cost over £100 (see the Section 75 Refunds guide).

    Visa also operates a chargeback scheme, where it gets your cash back from the retailer's bank if something goes wrong. This is not a legal requirement, but a customer service promise. You must notify your card company within 120 days.

What are my flight rights if stuck in the UK (DIY holidays)?

Will I get a refund/be rebooked?

  • If your flight is cancelled at short notice. Under EU regulations, airlines must either give you a full refund within seven days of any unused ticket or allow you to rebook, though the latter option may prove tricky until the ash cloud passes. So if you cannot get to your destination, you'll also get the return leg refunded.

  • If your flight is delayed. If by over five hours, you can choose not to travel on the delayed flight and get a refund within seven days (for the outbound and return trip). Some insurers may also pay you while you're delayed. This won't necessarily cover a particular cost, but you'll get some cash. See the insurance bullet within the how to reclaim hotel/car hire/other costs section for details.

  • If taking a connecting flight. If you've already made part of your journey, and the next leg is cancelled, if you no longer wish to continue, you are entitled to your money back within seven days for any unused flights on your booking and a free flight back to your departure point.

  • What if I booked my outward and return legs separately? This is most likely to affect budget airline passengers who are more likely to book single flights. If both legs are cancelled, you should get your money back or be re-routed.

    If your return flight goes ahead but you were unable to reach your destination to take it because of an initial cancellation, you should get a refund for the outbound trip (as detailed above) but your refund chances for the homebound leg depend whether you booked both flights with the same airline.

    If you did, you're in a stronger, but not watertight, position. Easyjet says if it's clear the two flights are part of the same trip it will offer a refund. Ryanair says it will consider refunds.

    If you booked with different airlines, you're not entitled to compensation but there is no harm asking. If unsuccessful, see the how to reclaim hotel/car hire/other costs section.

  • Can I choose to take a refund or ask to be rebooked? As long as you are delayed by over five hours, it is your choice, not the airline's choice.

  • Should I take the refund or rebook? It depends on how quickly you need to get to your destination and whether you can rebook at a convenient time. If you want to move your trip to a later date, the airline will only allow you to rebook without additional fees within an often short period, as defined by the airline (see table below for airline-by-airline rules).

    If you book for travel after that date and the fare is higher, you may pay the difference. By the same token, if it's lower, you may get a refund. Some airlines will allow you to rebook to a nearby destination (eg, Boston instead of New York).

    So if you want to travel later this year first find out what your airline charges and what a flight with an alternative carrier costs to make the decision (see the Cheap Flights guide).

    When rebooking, do so as early as possible as some airlines have time restrictions, plus you've more chance of availability.

    Below is a table detailing by when you must fly on a rebooked flight to guarantee you pay no extra costs. In some cases you make get a refund if your new flight is cheaper:

    Update, 17 May: Please note, these dates are no longer valid as the article was written a month ago.

    By when must I fly to pay same price?
    Airline Time restriction (from original date)
    Air France outbound travel by 30 April
    American Airlines by 3 May (date subject to change)
    BMI 2 months
    BA 21 days (BA will be "flexible" beyond)
    Cathay Pacific by 30 June
    Easyjet 30 days
    Flybe 28 days
    Iberia by 30 June
    Jet2.com 7 days
    Lufthansa by 31 December (in same booking class only)
    Monarch 30 days
    Qantas 28 days (if beyond, must be in same cabin class)
    Singapore Airlines 2 May
    Thomson 30 days. This policy was updated on Thursday, 22 April
    Ryanair by 30 April (with some restrictions. See Ryanair website)
    Virgin "Earliest available flight"

  • How to claim a refund/rebook. Contact your airline, though with phone lines jammed you may be best searching online. Many airline websites clearly explain the refund or rebooking process. If unsure, call, but we warned some operate premium rate numbers.

Will I get costs reimbursed while I wait for my flight?

  • Food. You are entitled to meals if stuck at the airport for a considerable period though airlines are advising those whose flight is cancelled to stay at home, meaning you're unlikely to get food if you needlessly travel.

  • Hotels. The regulations also state you should get accommodation for overnight delays. While this is your right, many will prefer to simply stay at home.

Will I get extra compensation from the airline?

Airlines only have to provide compensation, such as cash or a free flight, if the delay or cancellation is their fault. Therefore, in this case, you won't get that as the volcano is a natural disaster.

What if I need to complain?

There are two initial steps to take:

  • Step 1. Complain to the airline in writing. State your rights (see the Air Transport Users' Council (AUC) website for full details).

  • Step 2. Complain to the AUC. However, it can only help you, but it has no power over carriers.

If that fails you have two further options.

  • Try your card company. If you paid by credit card (for flights over £100) or Visa debit card (or Visa credit card for flights under £100).

    Under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, credit card firms are jointly liable with retailers if something goes wrong, if the item cost over £100 (see the Section 75 Refunds guide).

    Visa also operates a chargeback scheme, where it gets your cash back from the retailer's bank if something goes wrong. This is not a legal requirement, but a customer service promise. You must notify your card company within 120 days.

  • Go to court. This means complaining via the small claims court.

What are my flight rights if I'm stuck overseas (package and DIY)?

Will I get a flight refund while stranded?

  • Refunds/rebooking. If your flight is cancelled at short notice or delayed by over five hours, airlines (even if booked within a package) must either give you a full refund of any unused ticket or offer suitable alternative travel.

    Of course, many will struggle to get you on a flight soon due to flight cancellations and passenger backlogs. It's your choice which option to take.

    Some insurers may also pay you while you're delayed. This won't necessarily cover a particular cost, but you'll get some cash. See the insurance bullet within the how to reclaim hotel/car hire/other costs section for details.

  • How to claim. Contact your airline/tour operator/holiday rep.

Will the airline look after me while I wait?

  • Food. You are entitled to meals if stuck at the airport for a considerable period.

  • Hotels. You should get overnight accommodation while waiting for a flight at the airport, if appropriate.

What if I need to complain?

If you need help immediately for:

  • DIY holidays. Complain to your airline. You need to hammer home its responsibilities (see the Air Transport Users' Council (AUC) website for full info).

  • Package holidays. Complain to your tour operator/rep/airline. You also need to hammer home its responsibilities (see the Association of British Travel Agent's (Abta) website for full info).

When you get home:

See the Package holiday complaints and DIY holiday complaints sections for guidance. Then press your browser's 'back' button to return to this point if you need further tips.

What if I make my own way home?

Some weary travellers who cannot stomach waiting days or sometimes weeks for a return flight have taken matters into their own hands and used other means to get home. Often, this means paying more.

Technically, airlines do not have to cover those costs, according to Abta. However, some may offer refunds or some money towards your costs on a case-by-case basis.

So contact your airline to ask. If unsuccessful, try your travel insurer. Again, many will not offer refunds under their terms and conditions but there is no harm trying as this is an unprecedented event.

Some may also pay you while you're delayed. This won't necessarily cover a particular cost, but you'll get some cash. See the insurance bullet within the how to reclaim hotel/car hire/other costs section immediately below for details.

What about extra costs such as hotels/car hire?

It's not just flights that many are worried about but all the other extra holiday components that are often pre-booked, such as accommodation/extra transport/activities.

You may even need to claim a refund for a flight where you booked a return trip with a different airline to that used for the outbound leg.

Here are the steps to try:

  • Step 1. Ask for a refund.

    The first step is to contact the hotel or car hire company itself and see if it's willing to give you a refund. If you booked with a third party website, see if it'll help.

  • Step 2. Try your travel insurance.

    If unsuccessful, claim on your travel insurance (though this won't work if you bought it AFTER the eruption). Be warned some will decline a claim as natural disasters can be excluded from policies. When asking, be polite, but firm (see insurer-by-insurer table below).

    There are certain hurdles you need to go through before working out if you're covered.

    1) Will your insurer cover natural disasters? Many won't, but some of those may still pay out as a gesture of goodwill.

  • 2) Is cancellation covered? Cancellation is often defined as cancelling your trip before you leave. Some insurers that will payout because of the volcano will not cover for cancellation, only delays (ie, you still fly, from home or overseas, but after a significant delay).

    Yet it can get even more complicated. Some will say you're only 'delayed' if you've already checked in, otherwise, if moved to another flight, it's classed as a cancellation. Often, any payout for a 'delay' won't cover a particular cost you may get some cash simply as compensation.

    3) Flight costs. Insurance is very unlikely to cover flight costs as these should be picked up by your airline, other than if you made your own way home or had a non-refundable return flight you couldn't use because you couldn't reach your destination.

    The Association of British Insurers says insurers will automatically extend the period of cover for single trip policies for those stranded abroad (see the Travel Insurance guide).

    If you feel you've been treated unfairly by your insurer you have a right to complain to the Financial Ombudsman (see the Financial Ombudsman guide).

    As there is no hard and fast rule of success with insurance, below is a table detailing which of the major providers may cover some costs arising from the ash cloud disruption. But bear in mind, they may not cover all your costs.

    Travel insurance - are you covered?
    Provider Cover for ash delays/cancellation? (1)
    Aviva For delays, not cancellation
    Axa No for standard policies, yes for 'independent traveller policies'
    Barclays For delays, not cancellation
    Churchill Yes
    Direct Line Yes
    Direct Travel Yes
    Halifax/Bank of Scotland Yes
    HSBC Yes
    Insure & Go No
    Lloyds TSB For delays, not cancellation
    M&S Yes
    More Than No if stuck in UK, yes if stuck overseas
    Nationwide For delays & abandonment (if you give up), not airline cancellation (before you've given up)
    Natwest Yes
    Royal Bank of Scotland Yes
    Santander Yes
    Tesco Yes
    (1) Insurers will consider a claim if stranded by the ash, but you may still be declined based on numerous other circumstances.


  • Step 3. Try your credit/debit card company.

    As a last resort, if you paid on a credit or debit card, you could try to claim back costs from your card company, but don't plan on getting your money back this way.

    The problem here is, nothing has gone wrong with an ancillary booking like a hotel or car hire; it's you who hasn't made it. This means, legally, it's a very tough call. Yet there's nothing wrong with trying but hope for the best and plan for the worst.

    There are two things to try:

    Paid by Visa debit or credit card? Visa operates a chargeback scheme where it gets your cash back from the retailer's bank if you haven't had 'delivery' of your purchase. This is not a legal requirement but a customer service promise. You must notify your card company within 120 days if claiming this way.

    Paid by credit card? Under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, credit card firms are jointly liable with retailers if something goes wrong if the item costs over £100, which covers hotel bookings too. Normally, this is the stronger protection but as it's unlikely you'll have any legal standing, it's worth trying Visa chargeback (if applicable) first.

    For more info on both of these see the Section 75 & Visa Chargeback guide. If successful, please report it using the discussion link at the bottom of the article to help others.

What are my rights if I can't get to work?

If stranded, as you've effectively taken unauthorised leave, even though it's not your fault, employers are often within their rights to dock your pay, according to the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and employment law firm Thomson, Snell & Passmore. However, that's unlikely to happen in most instances.

Both advise you to keep your employer informed of your circumstances and make an effort to work where possible (say, if you have a computer, if appropriate). That way, it is more likely to look at you sympathetically.

The TUC also states that many employers won't dock pay because they want to keep valued employees happy.

Employers have fewer rights to force you to take holiday as for every day they ask you to take holiday, they must give two days' notice.

If you're treated unfairly then seek advice from your trade union, if you're a member, or your company's HR department.

What if I get bank charges while stranded?

If you cannot pay bills because you're abroad you may incur extra charges so contact your bank, building society, credit card company or utility firm to explain your situation. Many providers have released statements saying they will be sympathetic to those who run into trouble in such instances.

This may mean an overdraft extension or the waiving of charges for exceeding your overdraft, for missing payments or for overseas cash withdrawals.

Lloyds TSB and Halifax, for example, state they will waive any charges incurred as a result of travel disruption (see the Bank Charges guide).

The British Bankers' Association adds: "Banks are putting arrangements in place to help their customers and, in most cases, will deal with requests for additional finance or claims for charges to the waived on an individual case by case basis."

Any questions we've not answered?

Please ask in the discussion link below and we'll keep updating the guide.

Further reading / Key links

Make them play fair: Consumer Rights, Section 75 Refunds
Travel for less: Cheap Flights, Budget Airline Fee-Fighting, Cheap Trains

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