If you fancied a holiday abroad at any point over the last four years, you’ll have faced a whole series of disasters and disappointments.
The pandemic shut down the travel industry and getting a refund proved to be a major challenge. Then last year as we all rushed to cash in our vouchers, strikes, cancellations and cock ups left millions stranded at airports or seething on the sofa.
We are still facing a summer of strike action and cancellations, sadly. But now we have something new to worry about. Weather and wildfires.
For the second year running, fires are decimating popular destinations in the Mediterranean, from Greece to Portugal. Meanwhile, temperatures climbed above 40 degrees in many countries, making enjoying a holiday impossible for heat-sensitive Brits.
For those stranded abroad – and the many people who were told their holidays were going ahead despite their destination being largely on fire – it’s hard to know what your rights are.
Here’s my guide.
How do I get home if my holiday is threatened by extreme weather or a natural disaster?
If you are already on holiday and you have to leave suddenly due to extreme weather, a disaster, a serious police incident or political unrest, then your holiday company or airline is responsible for getting you home, depending on the severity of the incident. But as we’ve seen, the approach of the country you are from can result in widely differing experiences when it comes to repatriation.
Sometimes things might be getting a little nerve-wracking but the situation is hovering between ‘manageable’ and ‘serious’. When it’s time to go, your rights come down to the type of holiday you booked. In other words, did you book:
- A package holidays
- Separate flights and hotel/backpacking
This matters because if you are on a package holiday, the company providing the deal is usually responsible for repatriating you, usually on its own planes. If you’ve booked separate flights and accommodation, then the airline is your first port of call.
As we’ve seen in Rhodes, the wildfires meant the danger to life was considerable, so both package holiday firms and airlines activated their emergency plans to fly holidaymakers home. An evacuation is by its nature sometimes chaotic and frustrating and there will be long queues and challenges at airports. But holiday firms and airlines have an obligation to get you home – even on a competitor’s flight if possible. Don’t just book on an alternative flight and try to claim the money back though, the operator will need to authorise you to do this.
If your airline cancels your flight, then you are covered under the compensation rules that I often talk about in this column [link]
However, what about people who are due to fly to disaster areas? I’ve been flooded with questions from people who have been told that their holidays to Rhodes and other fire-ravaged countries are still going ahead, despite the destinations burning.
Many businesses have offered to rebook their customers on flights later in the year or are issuing voucher refunds. But some businesses are digging their heels in – outrageously in my opinion.
This is the time to turn to the terms and conditions. Your holiday package deal or airline will have T&Cs will have clauses covering whether it’s safe to travel to a holiday destination. Go through the contract and refer to it when speaking to the business. Have a plan about what you’re willing to accept as a resolution and make it clear that you will both complain to the firms’ alternative dispute resolution (ADR) scheme and the regulator if they do not comply.
But you may wish to bypass this hassle by going straight to your travel insurer. More on this later…
Can I get a refund if my holiday is ruined by extreme weather or a natural disaster?
If your holiday is ‘curtailed’ – to use the official term – and you have to leave for home early, you may be able to claim some compensation depending on the circumstances and what your contract with the hotel or holiday company covers.
Legally, we are in tricky territory here, as businesses are not generally responsible for things out of their control, like natural disasters or extreme weather. But they will have contract clauses covering what happens if the hotel or holiday firm cannot provide the service you have paid them to deliver. So if you get evacuated and the hotel closes, that’s not your fault either. Under these circumstances, you may be able to get a ‘proportional refund’.
When you buy any goods or services in the UK you enter in to a contract with the business. This contract will cover what happens if the services aren’t provided in full or in part. For example, if you travel to Centre Parcs and all the pools are closed, then arguably you haven’t got what you paid for, despite being able to stay at the venue. This means the business should consider refunding you a proportion of what you’ve paid to reflect this – or in some circumstances, all of it.
If you had a two-week packaged holiday in Rhodes booked and the holiday was cancelled seven days in to your trip, you might expect to get a refund of the remaining seven days. But as my top TV mate – and the nation’s favourite travel expert – Simon Calder, tells me, the firm is able to knock off the cost of your flight home (if you got on one) from your refund as that’s part of their service they have provided.
Travel insurance and other forms of refund
Of course, getting a refund or compensation for the bits of the holiday you couldn’t take is one thing. The newspapers have been filled with highly distressing stories about people fleeing from fires on overcrowded boats, with luggage and possessions being jettisoned so more people could escape.
This is where your travel insurance should kick in. Most policies have options for lost or damaged luggage, possessions and valuables in their T&Cs. There’s a big difference between theft or damage and not being able to bring your property at all though, so when you make a claim, make it clear what you experienced.
You’re usually asked to notify the firm about a ‘claimable event’ as soon as possible, but when emergencies occur, I’d expect the insurer to give you much more leeway.
Your policy may also cover things like emergency costs. This might include clothes, communications costs, basic food and drink and sometimes accommodation (though that wasn’t an option in Rhodes, for understandable reasons). As always, speak to your insurer before you start spending. You may even be entitled to some things that hadn’t occurred to you.
What the future might hold
If you are planning on booking a holiday in the future, you’re going to need to plan for all weathers. While large parts of the world burned, others – often close by – were hit by flash floods. So pack a brolly along the factor 50 – you never know.
It’s more important than ever that you buy a decent insurance policy and understand what it covers you for. Programme the emergency claim number and policy number in to the phone (maybe consider photographing the introduction letter too) so you have the information in an emergency.
Bu above all else, bear in mind that heatwaves are occurring much more regularly these days, with many popular European destinations sweltering in April this year. Be realistic about whether you can cope with temperatures over 30 degrees from June to August. Unless the Foreign Office advises against travel, you won’t be able to cancel your holiday if you are worried that it’s too hot.
Featured in Mirror – Martyn James