A simples guide

Volcanic Ash and your travel insurance

Back in 2010, Mount Unpronounceable, or Eyjafjallajökull, to give it its proper name, a volcano in Iceland, erupted. To most people across Europe it was unremarkable at the time but due to the combination of extreme heat and glacial water, the lava broke into very tiny fragments that soon found their way into the upper atmosphere.

What followed then was the largest air traffic shut down in Europe since World War II as around 100,000 flights, just about half of all European flights, were cancelled. Over an 8 day period more than 10 million passengers were affected.

It’s not an unreasonable question to ask then, what happens to your travel insurance in such a situation? Would you automatically assume that you’d be covered in the event that your flights were cancelled?

If that’s an assumption you’d make, don’t!


Finding out what cover you have, and making sure you’re covered

Most providers would not include cover for a volcanic ash disruption as standard.

If you already have travel insurance check the small print for any mention of “travel disruption cover or natural catastrophe cover.” If you can’t find it, or it’s still not clear, talk to your insurance provider and find out what their stance is.

Some insurance providers will insure such events, typically for a modest additional premium.


What happens if there is disruption?

If you’re an independent holidaymaker, the first thing to do when claiming costs in the event of any disruption, is to contact the airline or tour operator. If you’ve booked on a package deal, the tour operators must deliver the promised holiday or refund you the costs if they cancel your trip.

If your flights are cancelled, the airline must rebook you on alternative flights under EU law. Their priority should be to find you a seat a new flight at the earliest opportunity.

If, as in the Icelandic eruptions, airspace is closed, the airline should provide hotel accommodation, meals and refreshments until a new flight is provided. They’ll usually give you a daily allowance for the extras.

If you organise your own travel or hotels stays you can apply to the airline for a refund on your return. Be careful with the costs and keep your receipts though, as airlines won’t pay amounts they deem unreasonable.

And my insurance policy?

Your final port of call is your insurance policy but remember that the devil is in the detail and you must ensure before your trip that you have the right cover in place.

While some insurance providers made payments as gestures of goodwill in 2010, there is certainly no guarantee that they would do so again. Most of the claims on cheaper policies were simply refused.

This is because if you pay for the cheapest policy you can find, you’ll be getting only the very basics of cover. One of the reasons premiums are so low is that most policies are written for narrow “specified risks” and certainly not for all possible risks. If price is your only criteria when choosing a policy, you may find yourself disappointed if you need to rely on it.

Shop around for the right policy for you. This means taking into account price alongside the level of cover that you feel is adequate to give you the peace of mind you seek.

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