Q&A: Travel unravelled

Q. During last year's Icelandic volcanic eruption and subsequent "ash cloud", I was trapped in Delhi for a week because Air India cancelled my flight home. I had to pay £500 to stay in modest accommodation, and I lost a week's holiday entitlement from my employer. My travel insurers say I am not covered. Air India says it is not liable because it is not a European airline. Do I have any other redress? Bill Annis


A. Probably not. The unprecedented closure of European skies last year exposed the gaps in passengers' rights. Anyone booked to fly from any airport in the EU was entitled to a duty of care: hotels, meals and a flight as soon as possible. Anyone booked to fly from outside Europe on an EU airline received the same. But passengers in your position – outside the EU, on a non-European carrier – enjoyed no such rights.

Without reading the small print of your travel insurance policy, it's impossible to be as certain about any entitlement you may have. Many no-frills policies offer no cover for such events. The only hope I can see is the ongoing legal argument about whether the closure was due to a natural disaster (which may be covered by your policy) or inclement weather (which may not be). But on the point of losing a week's holiday – your employer is perfectly entitled to make that decision.

For future trips outside Europe, consider paying a premium to travel on an EU airline – non-stop to Delhi, that means BA or Virgin Atlantic – in case volcanic ash, or fog at Heathrow, intervenes.


Q. Our son, a PhD researcher, is going to Burkina Faso in January for 18 months. His luggage allowance is only 20kg. Can you suggest useful Christmas presents? Rebecca Selfridge

A. For life in a challenging part of the world, it's the money, not the thought, that counts. These ideas lack the personal touch, but they are practical. And light.

First, a wad of clean euro notes in €5s, €10s and €20s (higher denominations and grubby bills may not easily be accepted). As a former French colony, the euro is the preferred currency. And, as a fall-back – which you can top up from home – a prepaid money card, the 21st-century answer to traveller's cheques.