Does your insurance cover volcanic ash?

15 April 2010

Thousands of holidaymakers’ travel plans were plunged into chaos on Thursday after a cloud of ash from a volcanic eruption in Iceland shut down UK airports.

Currently all airports in Scotland and the rest of the UK are shut and are expected to be grounded until 1am on Tuesday morning. Many airports on mainland Europe are shut too.

However, many travellers may find that their insurance won’t cover them for the event.

Different insurers have different attitudes to so-called ‘acts of God’ and so travellers may or may not be covered for resulting delays and cancellations.

Airports have urged travellers to check with their airline to see whether flights have been affected. Travellers will also need to check their insurance policy to see if they are covered for delays.

Unfortunately many travel insurance policies don’t provide compensation for delays or cancellations caused by adverse weather conditions or incidents that are beyond the airline’s control.

Francis Tuke, spokesperson for the travel association ABTA, says: “Whether you’re covered by your insurance depends on each traveller’s individual policy. At the moment, if you’re unable to fly the onus is on the airline to re-route you or give you another flight or give you back your money.

“If people have booked the parts of their holiday separately such as hotels, and not as part of a package, then this is where insurance should kick in and they need to check the terms of their policy.”

European Union rules also state that if a flight is cancelled within 14 days of travel, airlines are required to compensate customers.

However, airlines are not required to pay compensation for disruptions caused by extraordinary circumstances that are beyond their control. In theory this could include the threat caused by the volcanic ash, so travellers might find they are not compensated.

Steve Williams, head of travel insurance at, says: “The situation is incredibly rare and insurance providers will treat the occurrence in different ways. It is unfortunate that there is not one standard approach when an ‘Act of God’ happens – this will be referred to as catastrophe cover in policies.

“For holidaymakers that experience delays, cancellations and costs, as a result will need to contact the airline provider in the first instance. They will offer alternative flights and, where cancellations have occurred, alternative dates for your trip.

"I advise passengers to keep a watchful eye on this situation as it is changing very quickly,” he says.

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