Stranded travellers warned: 'you're on your own'
CONSUMERS are on their own when it comes to recouping losses incurred on hotel bookings and car-hire as a result of the many cancelled flights, experts have warned.
Air travel across Europe has been crippled by a plume of ash moving across the continent from a volcano in Iceland.
But the manager of the European Consumer Centre in Dublin, Ann Neville, said last night: "Essentially the consumer is on his/her own."
Cancellations and delays were covered by EU regulations, she said, but they only covered passengers in terms of delays or cancellations. Any consequential damage in terms of bookings for hotels and car hire were not covered in the legislation.
"The only recourse is if they happen to have booked with travel insurance -- then they could try and reclaim on that," she said. But the Professional Insurance Brokers Association said many would find that their policies would not save them.
Many did not cover claims arising from adverse weather as they were exempt under the 'act of God' clause, said Chief Executive Diarmuid Kelly.
Ms Neville admitted "extraordinary natural events such as this" would come under the act of God clause. "But we are still telling people to look at the terms and conditions of their insurance policies," she said.
"Generally speaking, you're in a much stronger position with travel insurance. But, unfortunately, the airline won't cover lost bookings with hotels or costs incurred for car hire if you're not there to pick it up."
Hotels around the world will decide individually if they want to refund stranded travellers who have made bookings.
President of the Irish Hotels Federation Paul Gallagher said: "While the situation is out of our control, all our members are doing their best to accommodate travellers who have been affected.
"But at the same time, each individual hotel has their own system in place to deal with the situation," he added.
Airlines have said they will honour their legal obligations to passengers, giving them refunds or new flights, as well as food and accommodation if necessary.
But Ryanair's Stephen McNamara said "that's as far as it goes" in terms of the consequential losses incurred at the other end of a journey.
There have already been reports of travellers paying upwards of €1,000 to get home.
Many have been shelling out hundreds on taxis to get to ports in the hope of catching ferries home. But even that has proved difficult as ferries experienced unprecedented demand.
A group of businessmen paid a taxi driver £700 to take them from Belfast to London.
Others were medics who needed to get home to see their patients, the cabbie said.
Joe Duffy (45) arrived at Belfast Port yesterday after 24 hours on the road. He covered 869 miles. "It is only once in a lifetime you get a job like that. You have to keep the wheels going," he said.
In France, holiday-makers were being quoted €500 for a taxi from Paris to Calais port.
A taxi journey to Roscoff was costing up to €800, while seats on the Eurostar from Paris to London ran into the hundreds for anybody travelling with a family or in a group.
Mark Dunphy (31), from Co Clare, who had been enjoying a trip to Paris with his wife Gillian (34) and daughter Holly (3), was due to return to Shannon on a Ryanair flight from Beauvais last night -- but he remained stranded in France.
"We have been looking at our options but it has been very difficult," he said.
"The options include trying to get to Roscoff (600kms away) and getting a ferry from there, but that has proven impossible.
"Calais is just 300kms away but a taxi to there would cost €500 with no guarantee that we would get a ferry. It has been a nightmare," Mr Dunphy said.
"Ryanair has said we can re-book for free but we don't know whether it will be 24 hours or 72 hours or what.
"This isn't a cheap country to get stuck in. It's a complete disaster; there's nothing we can do," he added.