Monday 19 February 2018

Clash of the ash

The volcano in southern Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull glacier sends ash into the air
The volcano in southern Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull glacier sends ash into the air

Gemma O'DOherty

So that's our summer scuppered. A month ago, who could have imagined that a hot-headed volcano in Iceland would deliver such a knock-out blow to our holiday plans? But it has and it will, for the rest of the season at least.

The last time Eyjafjallajokull erupted in 1821, it spewed magma-laden ash into the atmosphere for two years, so the chances are this geographical mouthful will be a household name by the time it cools down again.

But instead of getting mad, we need to get wise. Hope for the best but prepare for the worst so that if your travel plans go pear-shaped at the last minute, at least you've volcano-proofed yourself.

We've been living in this bizarre new era of grounded flights for four weeks now, yet anxiety, confusion and uncertainty are still widespread among holidaymakers-in-waiting, simply adding to the travel chaos.

So here are some tips to help you through the next few months.

  • Watch the weather:

Wind direction rather than ash will be the key factor in deciding whether you get into the air this summer. Northerlies (winds that come from the north), which have been blowing our way a lot recently, are not good and tend to leave us in the line of fire. The prevailing wind at this time of year is usually south-westerly, and that's what we need to blow the ash cloud up towards the Arctic.

Keep an eye on Met Eireann's daily updates and the excellent Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre run by Britain's Met Office, which issues regular messages about the plume and its predicted movement.

  • Have a back-up plan:

If you decide to travel during a vulnerable period, work out an overland route that will get you home. Store ferry schedules and contact details in your mobile phones and keep your plastic in credit for emergency fares and overnight stays.

  • Know your rights:

If you decide to make your own way home and leave the city from which you are due to depart, the airline is not obliged to cover the costs you incur. You are, however, entitled to a full refund on the original cost of your cancelled flight. This does not apply if you are flying on a non-EU airline from an airport outside the EU.

If you booked a villa, hotel or car hire independently and were not able to travel, you are not entitled to a refund because there was no breach of contract on their part. Many properties are returning payments out of goodwill, however.

If they choose not to, your travel insurer may oblige, although they are unlikely to cover new policyholders who bought insurance since the first period of disruption in mid-April.

  • Know what's covered:

Anyone who stays put in their foreign destination during a disruption is entitled to the cost of meals, hotel and transfers from the airport, but don't expect airlines to cover a five-star bill.

If these are not provided by the airline during the time of disruption, keep copies of all your receipts and contact the carrier on your return.

If you have bought a package holiday and your tour operator can not get you to your destination, they must offer you a choice between a replacement holiday or a full refund.

Package tourists who are stranded must be looked after by their operator, who is obliged to get them home.

  • Be reasonable:

Some travellers believe they are entitled to compensation for the trauma of being left in a foreign land for a few nights. Really!

Remember, this unprecedented chapter in modern aviation is crippling airlines and costs our economy €10m for every day that airspace is closed. So be fair and don't demand the world, even if you can't get to see it.

Irish Independent

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