Cold snap: top travel tips

7 January 2010

With the arrival of the Beast from the East, most parts of the country is now covered in inches of the white stuff. And where there’s snow, there’s bound to be trouble for commuters and anyone else hoping to get from A to B.

Whether you’ve been trying to travel by rail, road, plane or foot, what rights do you have to a refund or compensation?

For more on the snow issues read our piece: It's snowing: Can I take a day off work?

Rail travel

Many train operators are running a reduced service during the snowy weather, while other lines are experiencing delays and cancellations.

The Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) advises train passengers to check their train service before attempting to travel. You can do this by visiting the National Rail Enquiries website, or calling its automated train tracker service on 0871 200 49 50. You could also subscribe to its twitter updates at @nationalrailenq.

If you’ve been affected by delayed or cancelled trains, then you should take the time to claim compensation from your train operators. Each rail company has a Passenger Charter, which sets out your entitlement to compensation for travel problems, so check individual company websites.

The type of refund also varies - some offer cash refunds, while others will reimburse you with vouchers; some cover for delays over 30 minutes, while others have you waiting an hour before they refund. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t meet the criteria, claims are often considered on an individual basis.

However, compensation is usually only issued if the reason for the delay is within the control of the company. If extreme weather conditions such as snow are to blame then you may not be eligible for a claim.

However, it’s still worth finding out whether you could be due a refund. Compensation forms are usually available at stations or on operators’ websites.

The roads

We’ve all heard stories about motorists trapped for hours or even overnight in their cars because of the adverse weather conditions – and, of course, the snow has prompted a rise in breakdown and accidents.

During any period of extreme cold and snowy weather, motorists are generally advised only to drive if their journey is necessary. However, this hasn’t stopped many people from taking to the roads this week.


Breakdown organisations are responding to vehicles in difficulty, but clearly they are travelling at their own peril because of the icy roads – and are just as liable to become stuck in traffic jams or thick snow.

If you are forced to abandon your vehicle, and it is stolen or damaged, then you should be able to make a claim on your car insurance. However, it’s worth checking with your insurer ahead of any journey you need to make to clarify their stance on insurance for abandoned vehicles.

Even if you don’t plan to use your car, make sure you clear the snow off your vehicle to prevent ice building up and reduces the risk of frozen door locks and door seals. And the AA recommends motorists sit in their cars and run the engine for around 10 minutes before switching off, to help prevent problems.

While driving, stay extra vigilant and prepared for potential accidents, keep an adequate distance from the vehicle in front and keep eyes peeled for pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.

Drivers should also report the damaged road surface to their local authority’s highways department, and find out how to claim compensation to cover the cost of repairs.  

If you do have an accident as a result of current weather conditions, then this should be covered under comprehensive motor insurance policies. However, the cost of breakdowns or vehicles that fail to start may not be covered. Motorists are advised to contact their breakdown or roadside assistance provider, whether they subscribe directly or through their motor insurance policies.

Flights and Eurostar

Flights are also likely to be disrupted by the weather, leading to delays and cancellations.


Unfortunately, air passengers may not be able to claim compensation for cancelled flights because these would be beyond the airline’s control. However, airlines are contractually obliged to try to re-route your journey – this might mean putting you on a different flight or offering you a refund for the cost of your ticket.

If you have travel insurance, then contact your provider as soon as possible to find out if your policy covers your losses  - these might include accommodation you’ve already booked for your holiday, or that you are forced to book if you are stranded.

Delayed flights are covered by European rules, so your airline is obliged to supply you with meals and refreshments, free telephone calls and accommodation if needed.

If your flight is delayed for more than five hours, then your ticket should be refunded. See the AirTransport Users Council’s website (ATOL)  for more information on refund.

Package holiday bookings that are covered by the ATOL scheme should also be covered for snow-related cancelled trips. Again, see the ATOL website for more information.

If you spent more than £100 on tickets using a credit card, then you might be able to claim under the Consumer Credit Act. Contact your card provider to find out.

Eurostar services were severly disrupted over the Christmas period because of the weather, and the latest bout of snow has led to a revised service. Anyone affected by clam a refund and even compensation. The compensation claim form can be found on the Eurostar website.


Following the snow, severe frost and ice are becoming the main hazards for most areas in the UK.


Many people take it upon themselves to clear snow from outside their homes or driveways - but be beware. If you sweep snow from one part of the pavement to another, and this later causes injury to another person, then there is a risk that legal action could be taken against you under the "tort of nuisance" law.

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