1st May 2010 | Articles

Andrew Young examins the impact of the Icelandic volcano, Eyjafjallajoekull in terms of travel law in the article below.


The Icelandic volcano, Eyjafjallajoekull, erupted on 20th March 2010 (having been silent since 1823) and then began a second, more severe eruption on 14th April 2010. On 15thApril 2010 Eurocontrol, which coordinates air traffic control in 38 countries, recom-mended the current flight ban, which has affected 313 airports in 20 countries and nearly 7 million passengers, owing to the danger to aircraft engines from the volcanic ash cloud produced by the volcano. According to IATA, the flight ban is costing airlines $200 mil-lion a day in lost revenue. The Icelandic Meteorological Office recently announced that the emerging ash column is now only about 5 kms high, having risen to nearly 10 kms, but it will need to drop to 3 kms before airspace can return to normal and no-one can say when that will happen.

In the meantime, what rights do passengers who have suffered delays and cancellations as a result of the flight ban have to claim compensation from the airlines and tour operators? Under EU Regulation 261/204, all carriers flying out of EU member states and all Com-munity carriers flying to EU member states are required to offer a full refund of the flight cost within 7 days or, at the customer’s choice, an alternative flight at a later date. While waiting for a delayed or alternative flight, passengers should be offered reasonable meals and refreshments and in the case of an overnight delay, reasonable hotel accommodation free of charge. In the case of cancellations, passengers are also entitled to compensation varying between €150 and €600 depending on the length of the delay and distance of the flight. However, the carrier is not obliged to pay this compensation if the carrier can prove that the cancellation was caused by ‘extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken’. As an example of such circumstances, the preamble to the Regulation refers specifically to meteorological conditions incompatible with the operation of the flight concerned and many carriers are relying on this exclusion to deny compensation to their customers…

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