On bank holiday Monday many distressed travellers watched on as hundreds of flights were cancelled.
National Air Traffic Services (Nats) received flight data that caused both its primary and its backup systems to suspend automatic processing, meaning all flights had to be processed manually.
The result? A huge amount of disruption – the worst failure for a decade – and flights are still being disrupted two days on, with one couple choosing to drive home from France to the UK rather than spend another eight hours in Nice Airport.
And, if you’re one of the very stressed Brits who has a holiday booked in the next week, it’s likely you’re wondering if your holiday will be wrecked too.
Fear not though, because we have the low down on how to avoid as much travel disruption as possible throughout your trip.
What’s happening at airports now?
More than 2,000 flights have been cancelled in the last three days. Though most airlines say they’ve now reinstated their regular timetable, holidaymakers are advised to check the status of their flight before travel, with some reports warning the knock-on impact may be felt in airports ‘for days’.
Emma Brennan for ABTA, a trade association for UK travel agents, says there arecircumstances in which you are entitled to care and assistance after a delay.
Those circumstances are if your flight is delayed beyond its scheduled departure time by two hours or more for flights of 1,500km or less (e.g. Glasgow to Amsterdam); three hours or more for flights between 1,500km and 3,500km (e.g. East Midlands to Marrakech) or four hours or more for all other flights (e.g. London to New York).
What falls under care and assistance? Food, drink and access to communications (e.g. two free phone calls) as well as accommodation and necessary transfers if the flight is delayed until the next day or later.
You could be advised to make these arrangements yourself and claim back the money so make sure to keep receipts and that costs are reasonable.
If your flight is delayed by more than five hours you are entitled to a refund unless it’s due to extraordinary circumstance like dangerous weather or air traffic control strikes.
If the airline is at fault you can claim £220 for flights of up to 1,500 km; £350 for flights between 1,500 km and 3,500 km or £260 for all other flights (this increases to £520 if the delay is longer than 4 hours).
Emma also recommends booking with an ABTA member, who ‘sign up to a code of conduct and commit to agreed service standards, accurate advertising and fair trading’.
It’s tempting to neglect travel insurance for your holiday because we always think bad things won’t happen to us, but Emma advises getting ‘comprehensive travel insurance that covers your specific needs, including any activities you plan to do or existing medical conditions’.
If all goes smoothly your flight will be fine and your holiday will go off without a hitch – but just to avoid any disappointment on the other end, Emma also recommends Reading the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office travel advice before you travel.
This means you’ll be up to date on the latest entry requirements ‘such as rules around passport validity and visas, advice on health such as any recommended travel vaccinations, and guidance on safety and security’.
And if you’re thinking of booking a trip?
Disruption can often put off holidaymakers, leading to bargain prices. If you’re thinking of booking a last minute trip, package holidays could be your saving grace.
Emma says: ‘Package holidays are one of the most popular ways to book an overseas holiday as they offer holidaymakers the highest level of protection and peace of mind.’
Why is this? Emma adds: ‘You have the right to a replacement holiday, if available, or the right to a refund if your holiday is significantly altered by a change in the situation at your destination.
‘You’ll be looked after if something goes wrong, for example, if your flight is cancelled, your travel company will either need to re-arrange your flight for you or offer you a refund for your whole package.
‘Your tour operator protects your money if you booked a package holiday and they subsequently go out of business (financially fail). If you’re yet to travel, you can make a claim for a refund for your package holiday.
‘If you’re already on holiday and your package includes return transport, the cost of getting to your return destination will be covered and you may also claim to be reimbursed for the parts of the package that can no longer be provided.’
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