Sunday, May 16, 2010

Iceland Volcano Flight Problems


April 20, 2010 Volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted causing major airlineJustify Full system delays and cancellations. Now a month later the ash plume is continuing to cause sporadic havoc for flights into and out of European airports. The volcano, which has a crater three to four kilometres in diameter, erupted in 920, 1612 and again from 1821 to 1823 when it caused a glacial lake outburst flood. It has erupted twice in 2010 — on March 20 and April 14.

As summer travel plans evolve we may be wise to consider what would happen if we become personally effected by nature's little belch. Since no one can predict how long the volcano will continue to spew many of us may have to think about contingency plans. Wind patterns and direction can only be accurately predicted 48 hours in advance, so we may be faced with a 2-day window to make some decisions about our travel, or at the very least be relieved of the worry about our plans two days in advance of our flight date.

Here are some things we can do to make the best of the situation.

1. Know your airline's responsibilities in the case of diversion or cancellation. In most cases of diversion to an alternative airport at your destination, there will be no additional charges, but you are on your own to get to your final destination unless the airline provides another mode of transport at their discretion. Since a volcano eruption is "beyond their control" they aren't obligated to pick up "expenses of inconvenience" such as hotel or food if you should be stranded. In the case of cancellation, one can ask to be put on another airline (if seats are available), or wait for rescheduling or ask to be put on stand-by for a flight to a city near your original destination. Airlines can also reroute you through other cities, which may involve more stops than your original flight. But if we are talking about cancellation because of the volcano, other airlines won't be going there either. Passenger rights in Europe are much more in favor of the traveler than in the U.S., so returning from Europe, airlines responsibilities may include compensation for delayed or canceled flights.

2. Sign up for automated updates from your airline which could give you advance notice of a cancellation or flight delay. Often notices from airlines arrive on your cell phone or e-mail very late in the process since they want to keep their options open. I, for instance, have received notices while standing in line to check in.

3. Investigate travel interruption insurance. Personally I think travel insurance is not a very good deal, but for many the cost for the peace of mind it provides is well worth it. In a quick quote I found insurance for non-refundable portions of a $3000.00 trip of two weeks, which includes weather conditions "that shut down the carrier" would cost $110.00. I just don't trust the wording. How many times is an air carrier completely shut down?

4. Roll with the issues as they arise. You could consider it an opportunity if diverted to a different city. Flight cancelled? Get contact information from the airline and get out of the airport! Take the opportunity to explore whatever city is nearby. Even consider renting a car if the flight is delayed overnight. Go to the concourse bookstore, get a guide to the city, find a hotel away from the airport that may be cheaper and have interesting things around it.

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