Remember the great Eyjafjallajökull eruption of 2010 that spewed ash across European airspace, stranding millions of travelers throughout the continent—and beyond? Iceland may be giving us a repeat performance, this time care of the Bárðarbunga volcano (that's Bardarbunga to English speakers), which has been increasing its seismic activity over the last week.
A few days ago, the agency that monitors the volcano raised the threat level to the aviation industry to ”orange,” the second-highest rating, putting airlines around the world on alert for possible flight disruptions due to ash clouds. Though it’s still unclear if the volcano will actually erupt, travelers planning to fly to or through northern Europe in the coming weeks should be prepared. Here’s what you need to know:
It’s not too late to protect your trip with travel insurance. According to Lynne Peters, a travel insurance expert with InsureMyTrip, many insurance providers are already treating the volcano as a “foreseen” event and will not cover its impact if you buy a policy now. However, there are still some that have not yet commented on it and will cover you. The specialists at InsureMyTrip can direct you to the right policies with those companies. Reach them at 800/487-4722.
If you already have insurance, call your company to find out exactly what coverage you have before you leave home. Insurers treated the 2010 eruption as a weather-related event and offered reimbursements accordingly. Peters says they will likely respond in a similar fashion, but it’s up to you to confirm. In general, you can expect to be reimbursed for any nonrefundable, prepaid travel expenses up to your coverage amount. If you’re stranded, you might also get help with additional travel costs for getting home and expenses incurred while you are delayed (meals, hotels, etc). However, it’s important to note that most companies cap the total reimbursement for these daily stipends. Peters says the highest allowable limit is about $2.500. You’ll burn through that pretty quickly in a city such as Paris.
Your airline might be obligated to help with expenses if you are stranded, says Nicolas Michaelsen, co-founder of AirHelp, a company that helps passengers get compensation for delayed, canceled, or overbooked flights. E.U. law stipulates that all carriers flying out of a European country and any European carrier flying into the union must provide care (in the form of meals, drinks, and accommodation) to delayed passengers—even those stranded by forces beyond the airlines’ control. This regulation cost carriers tens of millions of dollars when Eyjafjallajokull erupted. Some airlines, notable Ryanair, resisted paying. But the European Court of Justice ultimately found in favor of passengers, saying that the E.U. regulation “does not provide for any limitation, either temporal or monetary, of the obligation to provide care to passengers whose flight is cancelled due to extraordinary circumstances." If you find yourself stranded and think you're owed expenses, talk to your carrier—or ask Airhelp (via its website or mobile app) for assistance.