Watchdog calls for emergency aid to help those stranded
AN EMERGENCY fund should be set up to offer urgent financial assistance for those stranded abroad by the sudden cessation of flights, consumer watchdogs said last night.
Consumers Association of Ireland (CAI) chief Dermot Jewell said he is writing to the European Commission calling for the establishment of a pan-European fund to help the millions of people financially hit by the crisis.
However, Mr Jewell conceded there was little prospect of anyone being reimbursed for the cost of additional hotel nights or alternative forms of transport home following the mass cancellation of flights.
Calls to the association's voluntary helpline have almost tripled since Irish air space closed and calls from worried consumers overloaded the messaging system at the CAI offices over the weekend.
Mr Jewell said the calls were typically from stranded holidaymakers wanting to know if they were entitled to compensation for the accommodation, ferry or car hire which they are forced to purchase. Others, unable to get home, were anxious about bills or rent they were due to pay which they could not handle from abroad.
"This has caught everyone by surprise and it has had unusual knock-on effects," Mr Jewell said.
He called for the setting up of an emergency fund. Ulster Bank customers may be relieved to learn the bank has put together financial assistance measures to help those trapped overseas.
The bank is offering refunds on ATM fees for foreign cash withdrawals on credit and debit cards and has increased limits on credit cards and current accounts to help customers cover unexpected costs.
The mass grounding of flights has not affected the Irish wanderlust, according to the Irish Travel Agents Association.
Executive Dervla O'Neill reported a brisk rate of bookings among members, particularly for the peak summer months of June, July and August.
"People are not being put off... No one has reported people having concerns about flying in general. There is a feeling that this is going to pass," she said. One optimistic customer wanted to book to fly this weekend and was persuaded by the travel agent to wait for the volcanic ash plume to clear.
Meanwhile, those marooned abroad are causing problems for employers here as they fail to show up for work. More than 1,100 anxious bosses have made contact with Peninsula Ireland, the Dublin-based Employment Law consultancy, asking how to deal with staff who fail to return from annual leave due to the world-wide travel disruption.
Peninsula managing director Alan Price urged employers to be flexible in what were unprecedented circumstances.
"The main concern for employees is getting home ... returning to work on time may not be at the top of employees' minds," he said.
Other businesses are facing disrupted supply flow as a result of the volcanic fall-out and are considering forcing employees to stay home as they don't have work available.
Mr Price warned employers were not required to give additional leave due to these unprecedented circumstances.