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Simon Calder

Simon Calder: Ash cloud - what are your rights?

The latest volcanic eruption in Iceland has led to yet more turmoil for airline passengers. Here’s a quick guide to your rights when it all goes wron.

Q. My flight has been cancelled – what can I do?

If you are flying from your local airport, and you learn your flight is cancelled, you can rebook free of charge for a later flight – or cancel, and apply for a refund, which, with luck, will turn up in a couple of weeks. Of course if you’ve booked (as many people do these days) an outbound on one airline and an inbound with another carrier, you can only claim back the outbound flight – unless the inbound one is subsequently cancelled.

If you're away from home, it’s a very different story - the airline has a duty of care to look after you - as long as it's based in the EU. So, stay by the pool and order lunch until the airline can get you home.

Q. Does the airline have to provide the hotel?

In theory, yes; in practice, they don’t when there is large-scale disruption, in which case you need to keep all your receipts for reasonable expenses and claim them back.

Q. But I have to get home...

If you decide to make your own way back, the only liability of the airline is to refund the fare for the cancelled flight. All other costs are down to you - though some travel insurers may compensate you. Your airline may offer to fly you to an alternative destination, such as easyJet flying you from Faro to London rather than Edinburgh, but in these cases you must meet the onward travel expenses.

Q. What if I’m outside the EU on a non-EU airline?

Then you could be in trouble, as many people who were caught up last time found to their cost. For example, if you’re in New York and flying on one of the US airlines, they will say, approximately, “We’ll get you where you need to be, as soon as we can, but meanwhile you’re on your own” – and that’s in a city where accommodation typically costs £200 a night. Even if you booked, say, with BA, you could find yourself flying on a “codeshare” with its partner American Airlines – in which case there is no obligation of care. It’s the “metal”, ie the airline doing the flying, that counts.

Q. Lots of people will be reading this and thinking, “Yikes, I’m booked to fly but I just don’t know if I’ll be able to get home – and I can’t take that risk. What happens of you decide not to travel, for example on a half-term holiday, because of fears that you might not get home?

You are likely to lose most or all of your air fare or holiday cost - "Disinclination to travel" is not regarded as valid grounds for a refund by either travel companies or insurance firms.