Last week’s Iceland volcanic eruption doled out a harsh lesson to travelers in the form of massive flight cancellations, overbooked hotels and other difficulties. The Automobile Club of Southern California’s AAA Travel Agency is contacting all its clients with European travel plans in the next couple of weeks to assist with re-routing or rebooking trips if necessary.
“Most airlines and other travel providers have announced their policies regarding re-accommodating passengers as a result of this event,” said Pamela Shepherd, the Auto Club’s vice president for branch operations. “Travelers should consult with their travel agent and/or their travel provider’s website for the latest announcements. Hardly any providers are providing full refunds. Most are waiving re-booking fees as long as passengers reschedule their trips within a certain time frame, which varies from provider to provider.
“Our travel agents have been working hard since Thursday to resolve these complex details for their clients,” Shepherd added.
Filomena Andre, the Auto Club’s vice president for travel products and services, said that in most cases, travelers who purchased travel insurance prior to April 15 from Access America, the Auto Club’s travel insurance provider, will have some coverage for costs associated with delays or rescheduling.
“This type of natural disaster shows us why travel insurance can be a good investment for vacationers,” Andre said. “The typical price of a travel insurance policy is about 10 percent of the trip cost, and can cover items such as extended hotel stays, medical and other costs.”
In addition to travel insurance, the Automobile Club of Southern California has several recommendations for travelers to help minimize inconvenience to them as a result of cancelled flights.
Tips for air travelers include:
- Take advantage of alerts. When you purchase your airline ticket, sign up for e-mail, voice or text message alerts to your cell phone to alert you of flight status changes. Rather than providing your home phone number when obtaining your ticket, provide your cell phone number instead so the airline can contact you directly.
- Call or go online before leaving for the airport. Check the airline website for delays or call the automated flight status number to ensure your flight is not delayed or cancelled.
- Use your cell phone to save time. Program numbers for your airline, hotel, car rental company, and your travel agent into your cell phone. In case you need to change your flight, you can call your agent or the airline directly rather than waiting in line at the ticket counter. Make sure you have the phone number for whoever is waiting for you at the airport so you can keep them posted about your situation. Be sure your phone is fully charged prior to taking a trip.
- Use all contact methods available to you. If you’re already at the airport, get in line to talk to an airline agent, but continue to try to contact the airline via your travel agent, directly over the phone, or via Internet if you have Web access.
- Remain calm. With delays and cancellations affecting lots of passengers, the “squeaky wheel gets the grease” maxim probably doesn’t apply. You’ll increase your stress as well as that of those around you and you’ll probably get even worse service as a result.
- Contact the cancelling airline prior to rebooking on another carrier. If your flight has been cancelled by an airline that is still in business, that airline will attempt to re-accommodate you. If you book a ticket on another carrier before contacting your original airline, it’s possible the original airline will not reimburse you for your ticket or give you credit to use it at a later date.
- Know the limitations on your ticket. If your flight is cancelled or delayed due to bad weather instead of mechanical issues, the airline’s contract of carriage does not require it to provide passengers with any additional services. For the latest flight cancellations caused by the Iceland volcanic ash, consult your airline’s website for its policy regarding this specific event.
- Pack for success. Check the Transportation Security Administration Web site for the latest airport security and baggage rules. Bring portable entertainment such as books, music or video games in case you are delayed. Make sure you have prescriptions, credit cards, travel itinerary with flight numbers, driver’s license and/or passport, glasses, various electronics chargers and security-allowed toiletries in a carry-on bag. You also may want to pack food and snacks to bring with you in the event of delay.
- Remember to ask about amenities. During extended flight delays, airline staffs on the ground have the discretion to provide food and hotel vouchers, phone cards and snack boxes, so make sure to ask.