Simon Calder: What to do if your holiday 'goes volcanic'

The man who pays his way

Wrong, wrong, wrong: three wrongs make a right old mess, from the perspective of people grounded by ash from Eyjafjallajökull.

Iceland has the wrong kind of geology, as far as 21st-century aviation is concerned. Britain has the wrong kind of geography, being too close to Iceland and too dependent on air travel. And since the earth got restless at 63 degrees north, we have had the wrong kind of meteorology: an anticyclone hovering over the Atlantic has impeded the moist, south-west winds from ferrying the volcanic ash towards northern Siberia – where, with the greatest respect to the local Inuit community, it can stay forever, as far as we are concerned.

This publication got it wrong, too: on 26 March, Something to Declare erroneously described the erupting volcano as a tourist attraction, rather than as a threat to tens of millions of holidays. But while the travel gods conspire against us, let me outline the essential strategies to reduce the risk of being stranded at Stansted or grounded at Gatwick.

The simplest is to pay a bit extra and get a non-stop flight, if you can. Some British travellers caught up in the disruption last weekend got stuck because they had opted for a flight involving a change of plane: those with connections at Lisbon, Milan or Munich found themselves flummoxed, while people with non-stop bookings breezed over or around the disruption.

Next, to reduce the chance of being subject to a "knock-on" delay, choose as big an airline as possible. British Airways and Virgin were both hammered last weekend by the need to fly much longer tracks than usual on transatlantic flights: services to and from the Caribbean and Florida were badly affected. Virgin Atlantic, being much smaller, suffered more serious delays because there was less slack in the system (though I should point out, to stop a Virgin executive the bother, that one reason BA has so much capacity is because its operations have shrunk relentlessly in the past two years).

In uncertain times, the other essential strategy is to limit your financial exposure if it all goes wrong. Many people who lost out heavily were those who had booked accommodation or a rental car independently, rather than as part of a package. A proprietor who had already been paid was understandably disinclined to offer a refund, given that the room or car was ready and waiting; it was hardly his fault that the customer was a no-show. To avoid this risk, pay a bit more to rent a "pay-on-collection" car – most multinationals offer this facility – and choose a hotel with a "cancel-without-penalty" policy. For the time being, at least, many hoteliers offer this courtesy, though not always for the very cheapest rates nor for online bookings – so pick up the phone instead.

Finally, choose an EU airline. For as long as the absurdly generous EU261 rule on passenger rights prevails, European airlines must provide an unlimited commitment to your welfare if you are stuck thousands of miles from home. So you are guaranteed three square meals a day and a "reasonable" hotel room. Because of this open-ended liability, the airline has the strongest of incentives to get you home as soon as possible, in order to get you off its books. Last month, while non-EU airlines could cheerfully offer passengers repatriation flights weeks after the scheduled departure, European carriers were laying on extra space or booking seats on rivals to limit the immense damage to their fragile finances.

Terrestrial bliss with l'Hexagon

The most obvious way to avoid the danger that your flight "goes volcanic" is not to fly. Would you believe your luck? Today you are reading a special edition of The Independent Traveller that is devoted to France – and there are fast and affordable terrestrial transport options to every corner of l'Hexagon, as mainland France is known.

Besides today's spread from Brittany to the Med, the inspiration for bonnes vacances continues a while longer; to celebrate the new Footprint series of regional guides to France we will feature a different province every Saturday for six weeks in our Traveller's Guide series. Today, you can start dreaming of Provence; next week the focus moves west to Languedoc-Roussillon, then Dordogne and the Lot, followed by the Loire. Finally, we round off the series with Normandy and Brittany on 12 and 19 June. Easy to reach, and easy to escape.

Suggested Topics
News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Junior Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker