New York is bracing itself for the biggest storm ever to hit the east coast of America – Hurricane Sandy – which has been described as a “Frankenstorm”. Public transport services started shutting down on 28 October and will remain closed until the hurricane has passed and the damage has been assessed. Where does this leave travellers from the UK?
I am due to fly out – what are my chances of getting there?
Non-existant on the 29 October and mixed on 30 October. Airlines have cancelled about 7,000 flights so far.
BA has cancelled all flights to and from the east coast for 29 October, including those to New York, Washington, Boston, Baltimore and Philadelphia (with the exception of BA238 from Boston). Virgin Atlantic has also cancelled all flights to and from New York, Washington and Boston on 29 October.
So what are my rights?
Under European law, if you are flying to or from the EU with a EU-based airline and your flight is cancelled, the airline is obliged to offer you a choice: you can either cancel your booking and get a refund, or rebook on a different flight. However, if your flights are with a non-EU airline you will only be offered help with the flight from the UK to the US.
If you are stranded, under these rules you should also be entitled to refreshments and meals within reason, the cost of two phone calls and, if necessary, overnight accommodation. Keep receipts for the costs you incur.
When flights were cancelled or delayed because of the volcanic ashcloud in 2010, passengers were entitled to compensation ranging from €250 to €600 under EU air passenger regulation 261. But the Civil Aviation Authority, which enforces the rules in the UK, says that because cancellations caused by Hurricane Sandy will be treated as an extraordinary circumstance, affected passengers will not be entitled to additional compensation.
What should I do?
Bob Atkinson of TravelSupermarket.com says the first step is to check the status of your flight on your airline’s website, and see what help and advice it is offering – this will vary from airline to airline, including the length of time you have to rebook your flight.
If your flight is part of an ATOL-backed holiday your tour operator will look after you, making sure you have accommodation and transport as soon as possible. However, if you have booked independently you need to make sure the other parts of your trip – hotel rooms, car, etc – are cancelled, otherwise your booking will be treated as a no-show and you will be charged the full amount. Atkinson warns you may still face cancellation charges, ranging from 0% to 100% of the full price regardless of the circumstances.
Will my travel insurance pay out if my flight is delay or cancelled?
If you bought the policy after the hurricane was announced, you will not be covered. If you bought it before and the delay goes beyond 12 hours your insurer should offer a payout, according to Martin Rothwell of travel insurance brokers World First Travel. However, check the small print of your policy as cover varies, and some cheaper policies do not cover delays or cancellations.
I’m due to fly later in the week but want to cancel – can I get a refund?
Only if your ticket or airline allows for that. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has not warned against travelling to the US, so travel insurers will not pay out if you want to cancel your holiday or journey.
What is BA saying?
BA is offering passengers due to travel between 26 and 31 October the option of changing their travel plans. Those who booked through a travel agent or tour operator should contact them directly; those who booked through BA’s website or call centre should call 0844 493 0787 (between 06:00 and 20:00 local time) in the UK, or 1 800 247 9297 (07:00-01:00 local time) in the US.
If you are booked on to a cancelled British Airways flight you can either rebook on to another BA flight at a later date at no extra charge and subject to availability, or cancel your booking and claim a refund to the original form of repayment.
What about Virgin Atlantic?
Virgin is warning passengers on flights that have been cancelled to not travel to the airport and instead contact their travel agent or provider to rebook on the next available flight. Passengers who booked direct with the airline should call its flight disruption line on + 44 (0) 844 209 8711 in the UK, or 1-800-862-8621 in the US.
Virgin is warning that because so many aircraft are out of position it may take a little while before things return to normal, but it will try to book seats with other carriers to speed the process for stranded passengers.
Passengers of cancelled flights who have not started their trip can also claim a refund from their original point of sale, rebook on a later date or rebook on a Virgin Atlantic flight to or from another destination.