Several flights have been cancelled all over the European continent this week because of the ash cloud from Iceland’s Grimsvotn volcano disrupting the air space. What options travellers have if their flight gets cancelled or delayed?

The volcano eruption at Iceland’s Grimsvotn continues to send plumes of ash into the atmosphere. This has deterred many airlines to operate flights on the routes which are still covered by the ash cloud.

Nearly 500 flights have been cancelled in the UK so far and there is anticipation that more are likely to follow the suit. However, as of now flights are expected to resume across the UK as volcanic ash cloud has cleared from the UK airspace and moved over to other parts of the European continent.

Low-cost carrier Ryanair which is popular for cheap tickets on their flights contended right from the start of the eruption that it did not anticipate widespread flight disruptions. Earlier in the week, the airline carried out test flights and insisted that flight restrictions must be removed as the aircrafts faced no threat from the ash cloud. Following an approved test flight into the ash cloud’s red zone, British Airways‘ boss Willie Walsh announced that no damage occurred to the plane.

Mr Walsh told BBC, “We flew in the red zone for about 45 minutes at different altitudes over Scotland.

“‘Initially it flew over the north of England, Newcastle, Glasgow, Edinburgh, back to Newcastle.

“The aircraft then returned and has been examined. All the filters were removed and will be sent to a laboratory for testing. The simple answer is that we found nothing.”

BA confirmed that it will be operating normal flight services in the UK today, with the exception of few London-Hamburg-London flights. Ryanair also cancelled all its flights in and out of the German airports of Bremen, Lubeck and Magdeburg until 1pm UK time.

As per some latest updates, the UK airspace is likely to remain clear of the ash cloud until 7 pm this evening. The UK skies may be nearly clear of the ash cloud by Saturday, and the ash shall clear further away on Sunday, the Met department observed in its projections. However, Nats, the air traffic control company says that the volcanic ash is expected to be nastiest over Britain on Friday.

The event has indeed put in jeopardy the plans of travellers, especially budget travellers who had booked early to land up with cheap tickets on flights with low cost carriers like Ryanair and easyJet. Right now, no one can really tell how bad the UK airspace will be affected by the latest Icelandic ash cloud until later in the week. So, what can passengers expect if their flight is affected?

When Flights Get Cancelled

Under the European law, if a traveller is planning to fly within the EU or back to a country in the EU on an EU-based carrier, then the airline concerned is obliged to offer a choice to the passenger – one can either get the bookings cancelled and get a refund for tickets, or get the rebooking done on a different flight.

The refund should be made within seven days and as far as rerouting is concerned it should be done as soon as possible, unless the traveller agrees to reschedule it for some later date. While a passenger waits for new flight, he is entitled to refreshments and meals, hotel accommodation (if required), and transport between the airport and accommodation.

One must be aware that in the case of the volcanic ash delays, the airlines may claim ‘extraordinary circumstances’ and may avoid paying compensation. Even if that is the case they are obliged to provide meals and accommodation.

Passengers who make their own arrangements are suggested to keep receipts of expenses they intend to claim from their carrier.

When Flying From Outside the UK on A Non-EU airline

If you are flying back to the UK from outside the EU on a non-EU airline, then the rules do not apply. Most airlines will offer refund or an alternative flight. Passengers in such situations must check with their travel insurance, as this may cover them for the expenses of accommodation, meals etc.

When Flight Is Delayed

If your flight is delayed then the airline is obliged to provide you meals and refreshments. One might be able to get a refund if the flight delay exceeds five hours.

When the Flight Is Part of a Package Deal

If the passenger’s flight is a part of an ATOL-covered holiday package then the tour operators must cover all the expenses should the air space be disrupted. While those holiday makers who are stranded overseas will stay there at the expense of the tour operators and those who are yet to leave the UK are entitled to refunds. Even your hotel deposits will be refunded at the same time as your flight if you booked a holiday package but are not able to make it because of the flight cancellation or delay.

When Hotel Is Booked Separately

One cannot claim money from the airline if you have to cancel transport or hotel reservations at the proposed destination because of the flight cancellation. One must contact the respective hotel or the car hire company requesting them for a refund or a change of schedule. If this does not work then the passenger must get in touch with their travel insurer.

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