Europe is heading into the busiest time of year for travel with the threat of further disruption from volcanic ash and cabin crew strikes, leaving many travelers wondering how much their insurance policies can protect them.

Many insurance companies are now warning that policies purchased from the date of the first eruption are unlikely to cover the cost of disruption, as insurers typically cover only "unknown" events.

However, British Insurers Association (BIA) says that some insurers are making claims on a goodwill basis and that there is a very wide range of insurance policies on the market.

"Travellers who have taken out policies since the date of the original airspace closure (April 15) and whose travel plans are affected by the latest closures may be covered and should contact their insurer for advice," said the BIA's Nick Sterling.

Travelers who have booked single trip policies for journeys which have subsequently been delayed or cancelled should also contact their insurers, as most will either delay the policy or refund the premium.

Despite the confusion, Rochelle Turner of consumer rights group Which says that insurance is still absolutely vital for travelers.

"The last few weeks have shown how vital it is to make sure you're protected in case something goes wrong with your holiday. Travel insurance is still a holiday essential, however. While it might not cover you for ash-related disruption, it will protect you should you be injured while on holiday, or have your money or bags stolen."

Which advises consumers worried about disruption to book package holidays, which offer greater consumer protection, through a travel agent regulated by the Air Travel Organiser's Licence (ATOL) scheme.

The European Consumer Center said earlier in May that even in exceptional circumstances, EU regulations on passenger rights still applied and passengers delayed more than five hours or denied boarding were entitled to a refund or re-routing from their airline.

Meanwhile, British Airways has warned that the proposed 20 days of strikes planned by the Unite union could mean "extensive disruption for potentially hundreds of thousands" of travelers.

It again plans to lease extra aircraft and use seats from other airlines to enable it to fly customers affected by the strikes, which are planned for May 18-22, May 24-28, May 30-June 3 and June 5-9.

Some elements of trips booked before the strike was announced may be covered by travel insurance but passengers will again need to check individual policies to determine their course of action.

What are my rights?

Under EU regulations:

  • If your flight is cancelled, or delayed for more than five hours, or you are denied boarding, you have a right to ask for a full refund of the unused ticket(s) or you can accept a re-routing to your final destination. This means that you can choose between a refund or re-routing.
  • If you choose a refund: you have the right to a refund of the full amount of the ticket price paid (including taxes and any other charges).
  • If you choose re-routing: you are entitled to assistance from the air carrier. This means: meals; drinks; communication facilities; transport between the airport and your accommodation and a hotel room for the night, if necessary, depending on the delays incurred. 

More information

European Consumer Centre:

Which Magazine