19th May 2010
Update: 24th May 2010
The Icelandic Volcano has now stopped erupting molten lava, which should now mean there is minimal impact on flights.

In addition, new Ash Cloud Guidelines have been released which state it is safer for planes to fly in denser ash clouds than previously thought.  This should result in much less disruption going forward should the volcano start to erupt again.

We continually monitor the disruption the Volcanic Ash is causing on flights and airports and we will inform our groups on an adhoc basis as soon as we have specific information regarding their tour.

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Latest information received from the Icelandic Meteorological Office indicates that the explosive activity from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano has stopped. The Icelandic Met Office state that the volcanic eruption remains dynamic, and it is with this information that we continue to offer the same advice below as a precaution.

Groups
due to depart from the UK
If your departure airport is closed due to Volcanic Ash disruption we will work with the group leaders and the relevant suppliers to make alternative arrangements wherever possible to get groups to their destination as soon as possible. Due to the very nature of this constantly changing situation our response will be tailored to each individual group depending on exact tour content and destination.

Groups
Overseas due to return to the UK
If any of our groups are affected by the ash cloud whilst away on their tour, we will be in close contact with the group leaders and the relevant suppliers to ensure groups are informed, secure, comfortable at the destination while we work to bring our groups home safely and at the earliest possible opportunity. Again our response will be tailored to each individual group depending on exact tour content and destination.
  
  
Please find below ABTA’s latest statement.  We have included the areas applicable for our groups.

DISRUPTION DUE TO VOLCANIC ASH
Flight cancellations and delays as a result of air traffic control restrictions linked to the Icelandic volcanic ash situation

The following information for ABTA Members and customers reflects ABTA’s understanding of the position applying in these extraordinary circumstances.

Airlines and tour operators may, as a result of customer care policies or contractual obligations, be doing more for customers than the position set out below.

Customers should contact their travel insurance providers to determine what cover is available under their policy.

There has been considerable media coverage of reported statements by airlines, seeking to challenge or limit their responsibilities under the EU Denied Boarding Regulations. 

The European Commission Vice President for Transport has said:

The volcanic ash cloud is a very significant threat to air safety. National authorities are required to take decisions to ensure safety under international law, such as closure of airspace and airports, without discrimination between airlines.

In this case, the airports and those responsible for air traffic control have taken very swift and appropriate action to safeguard the public. And there is excellent co-ordination and co-operation at European level, notably within Eurocontrol.

But even in exceptional circumstances EU passenger rights continue to apply and air travellers should speak up to claim their rights.

This is a situation which is causing immense difficulties for passengers travelling throughout Europe. It can be considered a very exceptional circumstance. Nevertheless, it is important to remind passengers and airlines that EU passenger rights do apply in this situation:
  • the right to receive information from airlines (e.g. on your rights, on the situation as it evolves, cancellations and length of delays)
  • the right to care (refreshments, meals, accommodation as appropriate)
  • the right to chose between reimbursements of fare or be re-routed to final destination.
In an exceptional circumstance such as this, passengers are not however entitled to additional financial compensation that would be the case where delays or cancellations are the fault of the airline.

The following questions and answers are intended to cover the most frequently asked questions.

Frequently Asked Questions
1.  Problems with the outbound flight
(a) What if the flight is cancelled?
Customers that have booked a tour will be offered an alternative. If this alternative is a significant change to the tour (generally a change of more than 12 hours on a 14-night tour is considered to be a significant change) then the customer must also be offered the choice of a refund. This is a refund of the full package price, not just the flight element.

(b) and in that case what about compensation?
Compensation isn’t due because the cause of the disruption is an unusual event outside the tour operator’s control.

Customers should, however, contact their travel insurance providers to determine what cover is available under their policy.

(c) What if the departure for the tour is delayed or planned to be delayed as a result of the current situation?
If the delay results in a significant change to the tour then again the tour operator must offer the choice of an alternative or a refund. Where the flight is delayed and it isn’t clear whether a significant change will result, the tour operator doesn’t have to offer an alternative or a refund until they’re constrained or forced to make a significant change, i.e. when there‘s no prospect that the delay will only lead to a minor change.

The airline (on air tours) has obligations to offer meals and refreshments, and a refund of the ticket price if the delay goes over 5 hours.

In addition, customers should contact their travel insurance providers to determine what cover is available under their policy.
 
2.     Problems with the return flight
(a) What's the position of a customer who hasn’t been able to fly home?
Customers on tour will be provided with replacement transport home when possible.

Tour operators have an obligation to provide prompt assistance to their customers. In particular, they should liaise with the air carrier to ensure that the customers’ rights under the Denied Boarding Regulations are met by the carrier (see 3 below). Other assistance should be provided by the tour operator in accordance with their contractual customer welfare policy.

In addition, customers should contact their travel insurance providers to determine what cover is available under their policy.

(b) What if the customer’s return flight was delayed and they incurred additional expenses?
Customers are entitled to receive, from the airline, meals and refreshments appropriate to the length of the delay, and overnight accommodation if the expected departure time is at least the next day. Additional expenses on top of that are the responsibility of the client, however, as these are exceptional circumstances.

In addition, customers should contact their travel insurance providers to determine what cover is available under their policy.

3.    Who has the obligations under the EU Denied Boarding Regulations?
The airline, if it is an EU airline or any airline if the flight is departing from an EU country, is obliged to offer customers a replacement flight at the earliest opportunity, or a refund of the part of the journey not made.

If the customer chooses the replacement flight and it’s going the next day or later, the airline is obliged to provide accommodation and meals. 

Customers have the right to:
  • receive information from airlines (e.g. on their rights, on the situation as it evolves, cancellations and length of delays)
  • care (refreshments, meals, accommodation as appropriate)
  • chose between reimbursements of fare or be re-routed to final destination.
In an exceptional circumstance such as this, customers are not however entitled to additional financial compensation that would be the case where delays or cancellations are the fault of the airline.

 
4.     How does “force majeure” come into this situation?
The fact that the disruption is clearly being caused by an exceptional circumstances i.e. a volcanic eruption, doesn’t affect the basic obligations described above on airlines and tour operators. It only means that customers aren’t entitled to additional compensation on top.

5.     Now that Air Traffic Control restrictions are being lifted, flights are still being delayed and cancelled, why?
There are a number of issues here that will take time for the airlines and the authorities to resolve. In summary, the issues are that:
  • Aircraft are not necessarily in the right place for either planned future flights or ‘recovery’ flights for stranded customers
  • The same problem applies to flight deck and cabin crews
  • It is simply impossible to operate all of the ‘recovery’ flights required and all of the future planned flights immediately.
  • It may be necessary for some future departures to be cancelled even after flights are able to resume. Flights that do operate may be subject to rescheduling, delay or disruption as a result of this extraordinary situation.
  • Airlines from all nations flying in to and out of European airspace will be seeking to operate additional flights.
  • Airlines will be seeking additional capacity, but this is always limited and will be under great demand. Airlines will not be able to simply bring in aircraft to operate recovery flights in parallel to a normal, unaffected, future flying programme.
  • Airlines and tour operators will be seeking to balance the interests of all customers, those stranded and those about to depart. They will be seeking to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number, which is right but can not be achieved without some ongoing disruption.

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