UK: Volcanic Ash - Travel Delay Claims

Last Updated: 20 June 2011
Article by Emma Forrester


The news last month that volcanic ash from Iceland was disrupting air travel brings back memories of the eruption of the Icelandic Volcano, Eyjafjallajokul, a year ago, which led to worldwide chaos. Service at many airports across the globe ground to a halt and many passengers were left stranded in foreign countries, while others were unable to set off on planned trips. Passengers looked to airlines and tour operations for reimbursement of their expenses and the purpose of this article is to consider whether airlines and tour operators have an obligation to compensate their passengers and, if so, the extent of that obligation.

The obligations on airlines are distinct from those on tour operators and the legal position will differ depending on whether the cancelled flight was outbound or inbound and the country from which it departed.

Airlines - Outbound:

The rules which govern outbound flights are set out in the Denied Boarding Compensation Regulation 2005 (Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 of the European Parliament). This Regulation applies to all flights which depart from an airport situated within an EU Member State and Article 5 states that an air carrier should provide assistance in the event of delay or cancellation. This obligation is, however, qualified by Article 5.3 which clearly stipulates that 'compensation' will not be payable in extraordinary circumstances. The burden of proof is on the air carrier to show that the circumstances were extraordinary.

In an English decision issued in December last year, the Court held that a family seeking compensation from a Spanish airline after their flight from Madrid to London was cancelled because of the ash cloud was not entitled to compensation under the Regulation. The Court was satisfied that the flight had been cancelled because of the flight restrictions caused by volcanic ash and, as a result, the cancellation was due to circumstances outside airline's responsibility or control in which it was impossible to operate the flight. The airline had proved that the circumstances represented meteorological conditions incompatible with the operation of the flight and unavoidable extraordinary circumstances. This meant that, under Article 5.3 of the Regulation, the airline did not have to pay compensation for cancellation.

Airlines – Inbound:

Again, the governing Regulation is the Denied Boarding Regulation 2005. For inbound journeys, the Regulation applies to Community Carriers (Air Carriers based in the EU) and all flights which depart from an EU Member State. In the case of inbound flights the passenger has rights under Articles 8 and 9 of the Regulation. Article 8 entitles the passenger to be reimbursed or re-routed if his flight is cancelled or delayed. The passenger is entitled to be reimbursed if he has an alternate way home or is entitled to an alternate flight if he has no other way back.

In terms of Article 9, the airline is responsible for passengers stranded abroad and should provide the following:

  1. Meals and refreshments in a reasonable relation to the waiting time;
  2. Hotel accommodation in cases where a stay of one or more nights becomes necessary, or where a stay beyond the passenger's intended stay becomes necessary; and
  3. Transport between the airport and the place of accommodation.

The terms of the Article are clear and even if the ticket was purchased at a low cost, the traveller is still entitled to this protection.

Airlines – Inbound – Non-EU Countries/Non-EU Carriers:

The Montreal Convention is an international Convention which imposes obligations and liabilities on international carriers. Unfortunately, under the terms of this Convention, the carrier will not be liable for delay if it can be shown that it took all steps necessary to avoid the delay or, alternatively, it was impossible to avoid the delay. The Convention does not therefore provide any protection to a consumer in the current circumstances.

It is sometimes the case, however, that the airline's duties are set out in the contract between the traveller and the airline and so in cases involving Non-EU carriers and Non-EU countries, it is a good idea to check the terms of the contract as there may be a provision under which compensation can be claimed.

Package Deals – Before Departure:

Regulation 12 of the Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tours Regulations 1992 implies terms into every package contract. In terms of Regulation 12, where the organiser significantly alters an essential term of the contract before departure, he must notify the consumer as quickly as possible in order to enable him to take appropriate decisions. In particular, the consumer has the option of withdrawing from the contract without penalty or accepting a rider to the contract specifying the alterations to be made and their impact on the price.

If the consumer decides to withdraw or if the organiser cancels the package, the consumer is entitled to one of the following three remedies:

  1. to be supplied with a package of equivalent or superior quality if the other party is able to offer such a substitute;
  2. to be supplied with a package of lower quality if the other party is able to offer this, together with repayment of the price difference between the new and the original package; or
  3. to be reimbursed all payments made under the contract.

Unfortunately, the consumer is not entitled to compensation if the package is cancelled for reasons of unusual delay.

Package Deals - After Departure:

It is not clear whether the package provider has a duty to make suitable arrangements to continue the package if flights are delayed or cancelled. Regulation 14 of the Package Travel, etc Regulations 1992 states that, where a significant proportion of the services contracted for is not provided, where appropriate, the package provider will provide suitable alternative arrangements or, if this is not possible, where appropriate, will provide the consumer with equivalent transport back to the place of departure or another destination agreed with the consumer.
The extent of the package provider's liability in this situation is unclear. If the full duration of the stay has expired, there is scope for the provider to argue that the only thing they have still to provide is the flight home. Under this argument, the provider would only be obliged to provide alternative travel and would not be liable to provide accommodation or compensation for the extended stay. On the other hand, the consumer may argue that the provider has an obligation to make suitable arrangements for the continuation of the package. It is not yet clear which argument the courts are likely to favour in relation to flights delayed or cancelled as a result of volcanic ash.

In addition, the obligation to provide compensation to the consumer is limited by the use of the words "where appropriate", which leave scope for each case to be argued on its merits.


It is hoped that the current disruption caused by volcanic ash will not be as severe as the problems faced last year. Hopefully, the airlines will have learnt from last year's experience and will be in a better position to deal with the issues caused by volcanic ash. It has been suggested, however, that we are entering a period during which there is likely to be more volcanic activity and, if that is the case, those travelling by air may well face further disruption in the years ahead.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.