Insurers use 'act of God' clause to avoid paying out claims
THOUSANDS of holidaymakers face being left high and dry by their insurance policies as insurers claim the volcanic ash which closed airports yesterday was an "act of God".
While airlines said yesterday they will honour their legal obligations to passengers, including giving them refunds or new flights, food and accommodation if necessary, the insurance industry was pessimistic about people's chances of claiming on travel policies for their losses.
The Professional Insurance Brokers Association (PIBA) said travel insurance cover would vary for many travellers affected by airports shutting down.
"Unfortunately many will find that their policies do not cover claims arising from adverse weather conditions, a typical exclusion would be 'an act of God'," said PIBA chief executive Diarmuid Kelly. "And claims are generally not covered for the withdrawal from service of aircraft by order or recommendation of the regulatory authority in any country."
People would have to study their terms and conditions carefully to see what they could claim and should firstly seek alternative arrangements from their airline or travel agent, he said.
However the Commission for Aviation Regulation said that people whose flights were cancelled or delayed had significant legal rights under EC Regulation 261/2004.
This included information from airlines, access to phones or faxes, refunds or an alternative flight, food and accommodation while waiting for the new flight, and transport to and from the airport.
These rights and entitlements applied even if the cause of the cancellation was weather related or an unusual circumstance like yesterday's, said Patricia Barton of the commission.
While the "extraordinary circumstances" of this crisis meant passengers were not entitled to additional compensation from airlines for stress or for losses on other aspects of their trip such as hotels or car hire, the airlines did appear to be meeting their legal requirements regarding costs directly incurred as a result of the cancellations, she said.
"We will take up any cases where passengers cannot get these rights but, to be fair, and also based on what we saw during the cold weather in January, the airlines do seem quite well aware of what they are obliged to provide," she said.
There had been a fair number of calls to them seeking information yesterday, but not as many as in previous incidents of disrupted travel, suggesting it was becoming easier for people to find out about and receive their entitlements.
Ryanair said that passengers could apply for a refund or re-book their flights online and airports had also been instructed to reissue boarding cards free of charge for passengers affected by cancellations who might not be able to check in online.
Around 22,000 passengers due to travel to and from Ireland with Ryanair yesterday had been affected by the cancellation of 150 flights, said spokesman Stephen McNamara.
Passengers could simply send in receipts for additional expenses such as hotel stays incurred as a result of the cancellations to receive reimbursement, he said.
Aer Lingus said 25,000 passengers had been affected on 180 of their flights in Ireland, Britain and the US.
"Aer Lingus has offered those passengers affected by (yesterday's) disruption the option of a full refund or a change of reservation to an alternative flight/date free of charge, on aerlingus.com," they said.
"Aer Lingus will also provide care and assistance in accordance with regulation 261/2004, including hotel accommodation where necessary."
Irish Travel Agents Association chief executive Simon Nugent said many of their members were extremely busy trying to reschedule flights and rebook accommodation for passengers stranded abroad, particularly business travellers.