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What about that Ash….
10 Crucial Points to Remember

As I traveled to Ireland this past month, I went on the hopes that Volcano Eyjafjallajökull would cease spewing ash, but from the time I had left the West coast and traveled to my connecting flight In New York, they had closed Irish airspace again with the threat of closing British and European airspace within the next few hours from the enormous ash cloud.  So, what are you to do if you’re in a similar situation?  Here are a few key points to remember:

1.      Travel Insurance – Understand it.  Purchase your travel insurance within 7 days of your initial deposit for your trip.  And cover at least a week after your purported return.  The insurance companies have stopped covering ash related interruptions unless the volcano has been “quiet” for at least 48 hours or there is a predefined minimum time between when you  book and plan to take  your trip.  Ensure that you have adequate coverage for a lengthy delay, covering both your hotel and necessities for living, especially if you are traveling on a limited budget.  Meeting this 7 day deadline will also ensure that you are covered for pre-existing conditions for yourself or close family members such as a parent or grandparent. **

2.      Travel Insurance – Use it. Your travel consultant will be your best guide on your individual needs for travel insurance.   If you feel travel insurance is too costly, remember, it is generally most important to cover your out of pocket expenses and penalties, and not advisable to cover your entire trip. This will make your insurance more affordable.  There are also insurance policies that have a concierge phone number to call in these situations and will be one of your best allies in rebooking your itinerary as well as giving you the comfort of knowing you have help if you need it.  These are typically a 24/7 help line and are included in the policy as well as being accessible from almost any country.**

3.      Verify airport status prior to departure.  If you find that your destination or connecting airport is closed due to volcanic ash or any other reason before you leave and you can postpone, do so.  Once you have taken your first flight you are committed, and turning back once you reach a connecting flight will put you at risk of having to buy an entirely new ticket if you have to return home instead of going on to your destination.  Check local news at your destination as this will give you more up to date information than the US news.  For example, I watched www.rte.ie for the latest in news on Ireland closures.  If you have insurance, the costs of purchasing a new airline ticket would be covered.

4.      Carryon’s, take your essentials.  Remember to carry your essential overnight toiletries, medications and a change of clothes on board the aircraft.  Carryon luggage is becoming even more restricted, so pack light and well. Carry all liquids in a plastic bag that can be taken out at security.  Liquids that are prescribed by a doctor may be carried on as long as they are in the original container; this also applies to prescribed pills.  Consider asking your doctor to provide you with a prescription for your medications so that in case you are delayed you may have it filled at a local pharmacy.

5.      Travel Consultants – use them.  Call your travel consultant as soon as possible and have them rebook your flights on alternative routes, taking into account that regional or city airports have historically been the last to close.  Do not wait for the situation to change.  There are at least 300 other people trying to reroute as well.  The longer you wait the more chance that you will be one of the last to get out.  Once you have been delayed, you have lost priority to the next day’s travelers that are holding a seat reservation and you are now in a waitlisted situation unless you obtain a confirmed rebooking.  Travel consultants (or even travel agents) have the advantage of direct airline computer access.  But remember that in order to assist you now they must control the ticket to make changes – meaning that they must have booked your original fare.

6.      Online Booking.  If you have booked your flight online and are reliant on the airline to rebook, sign on to their website if possible and rebook online.  There are no fees in doing so and calling in can result in a fee being added to a change that is out of your control.  At peak times like this airline websites can become clogged, so if wireless access is available consider attempting your rebooking while simultaneously waiting in the airline Service Center line (if one exists).  If you are successful in your online rebooking you may just virtually jump ahead of the ten people in front of you.  Worst case you are already in line and an agent will be able to assist you.  It is first-come first-serve after all.

7.      Consider alternate airports. Consider rebooking to a city close to your final destination.  ( I was headed to Dublin and rebooked to Belfast City Airport, not Belfast  International which had already been closed.)

8.      Airline Clubs.  If you are a frequent flyer,  have a lengthy layover or are delayed, consider buying a day pass to the President’s Club of your airline and know that there will be showers, food and a concierge to help you rebook if your flight is delayed.  If you are disabled or have any type of medical condition, this is also a good place to “call home” in the interim.  Costs associated with this usually run about 45.00 for the day, per person and include beverages, basic alcoholic “well drinks”, showers, internet services, office, concierge and snacks (cheeses, crackers, fruits).

9.      Baggage Delays. If your baggage is delayed, remember to keep your receipts for any expenditure you were not expecting, including clothing and toiletries.  Lost luggage is replaced at about 10.00 per kilo, so don’t pack expensive items or jewelry in your luggage unless you have added coverage from your travel insurer.  Personal expenditures due to delayed baggage is reimbursable at cost as long as they are not extravagant, but you must submit your claim “in writing” within 21 days.  Be sure to check your airline’s policy for specific limitations! Make sure you explain clearly what has happened and include your original receipts after making a copy of them and the letter you have written. You can find the correct address and department online in which to send them, but little is listed online about the rules and regulations pertaining to these claims. Therefore, if possible check with the baggage department of your airline while at the airport to fill in a lost luggage form. But, remember, filling out a lost luggage form at the airport does not exempt you from having to write in to the airline with your delayed or lost luggage requests and receipts. You may also circumvent any problems of this sort by having good travel insurance that includes lost and delayed baggage coverage.  Some insurers also offer different amounts of insurance that will cover more expensive items that you may be carrying on a piece by piece basis.

10.  Hotels and Rental Cars.  If you have reserved hotels or automobiles, make sure to rebook those as soon as you know what your modified itinerary requires. Most hotels and car rental companies are very lenient with their rules in this situation.  Also, make sure your car rental company is willing to accommodate a one way rental, such as picking up a car at a different airport than expected, but still dropping it off at your original departure point. 

Keep in mind that everyone will be in the same situation so take it easy on your fellow travelers and airport personnel, have fun and keep good humor.  It will be worth it in the long run to avoid added stress in an already stressful situation.   Happy Travels!              

** Every Travel Insurer has different requirements and policies. Please check with your consultant to find the insurer that fits your needs and covers you appropriately. 

Courtesy of Ginger Garrison, CTC
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