Travel in a post-Eyjafjallajokull world?
April 22, 2010 7:47 AM   Subscribe

Buying tickets to Amsterdam in September. What are the risks of travel disruptions based on further volcanic activity, and is there anything I should do to mitigate those risks?

For example, when a Canadian airline went out of business a few years ago, one of the lessons learned was that people who booked travel through a travel agent were automatically insured and able to get alternate flights, but those who booked online were on their own.

Obviously a total travel disruption is a different situation, but is there anything I should do differently when booking tickets? Particular insurance perhaps?

Are there any changes expected to air travel in general based on last week's events?

And should I pull the trigger now or wait - are prices expected to fall due to decreased demand, or rise due to increased overhead and risk? Or is it just too early to tell?

(Should mention I'm not terribly worried about being stuck in Europe in a worst-case scenario - I have family in Holland and I could work out of my company's German office).
posted by Gortuk to Travel & Transportation around Amsterdam, The Netherlands (10 answers total)
I'm in a similar situation for travel from Canada to Europe shortly. I looked at the various airlines' refund policy in regard to the volcano and will book accordingly. For example, British Airways was giving a full refund regardless of the booking class but Air Canada was only letting people move travel dates to a future time and not refunding if you originally booked a lower fare that disallowed refunds.

Also: check with your credit card insurance.
posted by meerkatty at 7:51 AM on April 22, 2010

Best answer: I've read up a bit on this for a stranded friend, and it basically boils down to - check the policies of the airline, and the wording of your insurance before you go. This article has a bit on EU regulations to do with cancelled flights.
posted by Coobeastie at 8:03 AM on April 22, 2010

You may also be able to buy trip insurance assuming the trip is far enough out that an insurance company is willing to insure it. (Next week, no. This fall, call and ask.)
posted by kindall at 8:08 AM on April 22, 2010

Best answer: Passengers flying on EU airlines have more rights than passengers flying on U.S. airlines. That includes non-Europeans flying into or out of Europe. Specifically, EU airlines are required to pay for rerouting passengers (does't need to be by air) or to cover their food and accommodation costs until they can fly. The choice is the passenger's.

This also applies to codeshares. I.e., if you fly on a United plane but are ticketed on British Midlands, the EU rules apply to you.

Cheapo Ryanair said they weren't going to cover passenger costs, got a phone call from the EU, and now they are.
posted by justcorbly at 8:17 AM on April 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The only thing I would do in your case is book with a European carrier and double-check your credit card insurance details.
posted by Wilder at 1:00 PM on April 22, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice so far - I was planning on flying KLM as they have the best direct flights from Toronto, and it looks like they have a solid refund policy.
posted by Gortuk at 1:50 PM on April 22, 2010

If you want to 100%, for-sure, absolutely get there?

Fly on an EU carrier as far southwest from Amsterdam as you can. Something like (from your profile, I'm guessing you'd fly from Toronto?)-Lisbon/Madrid-Amsterdam.

Portugal is better than Spain because it's so narrow and has so few airports that the likelihood of an ash plume going so far west out over the Atlantic that it flies back toward Portugal, straight on, seems hard to imagine, especially if the volcano is Icelandic; diverting to Porto or Faro also wouldn't be a massive inconvenience, especially if you padded your schedule for a day or so and didn't need to have an immediate transfer to your flight out of Lisbon.

But the best place of all to change planes for this trip, I think, is the Azores, which are actually west of Iceland.

For maximum probability of getting to Amsterdam:

1) SATA from Toronto to/from Lisbon via the Azores and

2 and 3) two cheap low-cost-airline tickets from Lisbon to/from Amsterdam and

4) refundable, reserved seats/beds on trains all the way there and back, which this website can help you with. It's all online-bookable in English.

This way, if Amsterdam airport closes while Lisbon is still open, you can race the ash and travel overland to/from Lisbon and get to Amsterdam/home, jettisoning the relevant flight of the low-cost airline while still retaining the other one, if applicable.

However, if Amsterdam airport's open the day before your trip, get your train tickets (usually more flexible than plane tickets) refunded - many times, they are refundable up until the moment of departure, though you may need to call a few numbers. Book directly with the rail companies to be sure of the exact conditions for what it takes to get a refund.

SATA is an EU-registered carrier and the Azores are part of Portugal and thus the EU, so Regulation 261/2004 apply to you should your flights be delayed or canceled.

Finally, buy trip insurance that covers volcanic ash clouds! :)
posted by mdonley at 2:17 PM on April 22, 2010

You definitely need to double check the refund policy or insurance policy with the company directly. My University sent out an email yesterday pointing out that we are no longer insured for travel disruptions from this volcano as it is no longer an unforeseeable event (I imagine if the other one blows they'll refuse to cover that too). So any one who books a flight from now on is on their own if there's more problems, no money back, no help from the airline, and it will stay like that for up to six months. September may be OK but if they somehow keep going off between now and then the timer might get reset.

Now this was a University wide thing where everyone has to book through the same travel agent and is under the same insurance, no choices, and for your personal travel you're free to go with a different company if it suits you. So you should be able to get better terms than this. But don't assume that the standard disclaimers apply as this is now apparently a special case (i.e. you know it's a risk when booking whereas you didn't before), definitely ring and check.
posted by shelleycat at 2:20 PM on April 22, 2010

I do not think it is very likely you will see similar issues from volcano ash in Europe when you travel in September. The main reasons the skies are open is not that there is no more ash in the sky, but that the authorities have increased the amount of ash that is tolerated in the sky before flying is not allowed anymore. This appears to be based on recent testing that took place during the crisis and on input from engine manufacturers. Even if they would need to reclose some airspace again, it is unlikely to be as big of an airspace as it was last week from what I hear on the European news.

justcorbly is correct, passengers flying to and from Europe have more rights than passengers in the US. By law, they have to pay for accomodation and meals if they cancel or postpone your flight, even if it is out of their control. This should also apply to non-EU airlines, but you will likely get better compliance to this rule from an EU airline.

In terms of using a travel agent, it would appear that people that travelled with a tour operator were better taken care of than people that booked only a flight. The tour operators took care of hotels, food and alternative transports. Note however that I am referring to organized tours and not just travel agents. During the travel restrictions last week there was NO advantage of booking through a travel agent compared to booking direct with the airline. During the travel restrictions, the travel agents told people to call the airline directly as they did not have access to the latest information on flights and availability. In other words, the travel agents could not help anyone and people ended up having to deal with the airline anyway.

Where some of my colleagues did find travel agents useful was in order to make alternative arrangements, e.g., fly through other airports, book car rentals, etc. However, that does not necessarily relate to the original ticket you bought and in fact, many people ended up using different travel agents for their alternate booking than the travel agent they used for their original ticket.
posted by eurandom at 6:56 AM on April 23, 2010

Just to correct a few possible misconceptions in this thread:

The Azores can be affected by the ash cloud, depending on wind. In fact as of this writing the airspace is closed due to ash.

I do not believe that the Euro regulations will cover the cost of tickets due to the volcano, as it is an act of God. The airline should cover accommodation if you get stranded. Not sure if anyone meant that, just wanted to make it clear.
posted by selfnoise at 6:37 AM on May 10, 2010

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