The high volumes of flight cancellations hitting the travel sector this summer are understandably making headlines. Much of the focus is on the impact the disruption is having at airports, with passengers facing long queues and the risk of being separated from their luggage as under-staffed ground operations struggle to cope.
But flight cancellations are also causing broader issues for passengers that are going slightly under the radar. Much of this is to do with the financial implications of having your flight cancelled.
Part of the reason this is perhaps going under-reported is because, on the face of things, there shouldn’t be any financial consequences to having your flight cancelled. The air travel industry in the UK and EU is closely regulated, with strict rules on passenger’s rights in the event of cancellations.
If any flight to or from an airport in the UK or EU is cancelled by the airline, passengers must be offered the choice of an alternative flight or a full refund. There is also a compensation scheme designed to cover additional costs passengers might incur, such as having to rearrange travel to and from the airport.
However, the compensation scheme comes with loopholes, such as the fact that airlines are not obliged to pay out if cancellations are caused by bad weather or industrial action. And there are question marks over whether the compensation levels adequately cover the real costs people can face following a flight cancellation. Statutory pay out levels start at a maximum of just £220 for short haul flights.
Losing out from car hire rebookings
One thing to be aware of is the impact a flight cancellation could have on car hire costs. This story of a British holiday maker who had to change their car hire booking in Italy after their EasyJet flight was cancelled illustrates the issue. It wasn’t just a case of having to pay for an extra couple of days’ hire because their return flight was put back. They also lost out on a promotion that gave them a free additional driver on the original booking.
All told, the rebooking cost them an extra £375 – way more than the maximum £220 compensation pay out for a short haul flight cancellation.
The issue is that most online car hire platforms don’t let you alter an existing booking – even though some misleadingly advertise making ‘amendments’. What actually happens is that you make a new booking from scratch.
In the above example, the customer in question not only made a brand new booking that was a couple of days longer than their first booking. They also lost out on a time-limited special promotion.
From the customer’s perspective, it doesn’t feel like a very fair system – especially when you are making the amendment/rebooking through no choice of your own.
What is also confusing to passengers is that they often make car hire bookings through the website of their airline. Naturally, if your flight subsequently gets cancelled and rearranged, you feel as if there should be some direct connection to changing your car hire booking.
But while many airlines partner with car hire firms, all they are really doing is promoting their services through their own platform. They exist as completely separate businesses, and any booking you have with a car hire agency is completely separate to your booking with an airline. There is nothing in law that says car hire firms have to honour the terms of an original contract that you are forced to change because of a flight cancellation.
Get insurance to cover potential extra costs
So what can you do to protect yourself? You could of course hold off on hiring a car until you actually arrive at your destination, or else do it right at the last minute online. But this means you will miss out on the best deals which tend to be offered on advance bookings. Hiring a car will end up costing you more than it would have done, so there is little advantage.
A better option is to take out travel insurance before you book your car. Read the terms and conditions around cancellation cover. More comprehensive policies should offer to pay out for any and all costs relating to a cancellation, with payout limits stretching to thousands of pounds.
All in all, travel insurance is by far and away the most secure way to protect yourself financially against holiday disruption. That’s because it is designed not to cover the cost of one specific circumstance – your airfare, or the cost of a hotel room – but the entire cumulative costs of a holiday, including additional travel, services bought etc.
Plus, travel insurance is specifically designed to offer financial protection for unforeseen events. Whether that’s luggage being lost en route or falling ill and needing hospital treatment or having your flight cancelled, travel insurance has your back.