Travel delays and airport chaos: know your rights as a passenger

Written by Uriah Jansen, head of Hollard Travel

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Covid restrictions removed: check.

Packed my bags and ready to fly: check.

Trip turned into a nightmare: TBC.

We saw how, during the height of the pandemic, airports and airlines were sent into a tailspin. There were international travel restrictions, “red lists” and entry requirements changing at a minute’s notice. Flights had to be cancelled and jobs cut. It was carnage for many travel industry players.

Just when we thought things were getting back to normal in the skies, along comes another spanner in the works affecting travel plans and traveller’s confidence.

In recent weeks, airports around the world have been rocked by flight delays and disruptions, mainly due to staffing shortages. Passengers have been faced with long queues, cancellations, missed connections and missing baggage. There have been scenes of chaos and mayhem. London’s Heathrow Airport, for one, has been a nightmare.

Passengers don’t particularly care whether it’s a lack of staff, strike action or refuelling problems that are to blame. They simply want to get to their destination – or get home.

Understandably, passengers get hot under the collar when circumstances they can’t control cause them to miss their flights and force them to sit and wait around for hours, often without explanation or resolution.

Hollard Travel has noticed a marked uptick in travel insurance claims for baggage delays and travellers that missed their connecting flights in recent weeks. While travel insurance can’t compensate you for the fumes coming out of your ears due to extreme frustration, it can give you peace of mind – and add an extra level of security when you plan your trip.

The problem of the COVID-19-enforced shortage of airport staff – in particular, experienced staff – is rearing its head.

While we had previously seen an influx of travel insurance claims for COVID-19-related events such as quarantine stays, now it’s flipped to claims for delays and baggage issues. We can never say we work in a dull industry!

So, if you’re stuck in a situation where you’ve missed your international or connecting flight through no fault of your own, what do you do? The first step is to know your rights as a passenger.

The airline has a legal obligation to provide you with another flight to your destination – your ticket serves as a type of contract. If the delay is the airline’s fault, you might also be entitled to compensation (provided the airline is in the European Union).

However, for full peace of mind in these times of uncertainty, it’s more advisable than ever to take out travel insurance when you travel internationally – this will help close any gaps and cover most eventualities when you are preparing to step on that aeroplane. But even then, you need to carefully check your policy wording to see what’s covered, from medical emergencies to cancelling your trip.

If you can’t claim compensation from the airline, you may be covered by your travel insurance policy for the cost of additional accommodation and meals while you’re waiting for your rescheduled flight to depart.

Bear in mind, though, that travel insurance will only cover you for events that are beyond the control of the airline – such as bad weather, unforeseen technical problems or an unexpected strike – and not operational reasons such as staff shortages.

What about lost baggage? Again, you have a “contract” with the airline when it comes to safeguarding your luggage from damage or loss, or delays in receiving it. Depending on the airline contract, this could be limited to $20 per kilogram for lost baggage, usually not enough to cover you for your loss. Your travel insurance may be able to compensate you for the difference.

Plus, you may not know that if your baggage is delayed, you can also apply to the airline for a daily allowance so you can buy clothes and personal hygiene items while you’re waiting for it.

You must also understand the rules of cover as you would your rights. If your baggage is missing, you must report it to the lost-and-found office before you leave the baggage collection area upon disembarking from your flight to ensure your claim is paid. Keep all receipts for all the necessities you have to buy while your baggage is missing or delayed.

To cover all your bases, if your flight is delayed or your baggage is missing, ask your airline for a letter confirming whether it has paid you any compensation, and listing the reason for the delay or cancellation. This will help you claim from your travel insurance if you need to.

Our top tip is to book your air ticket through an experienced travel agent, who will ensure that provision is made for adequate connecting times. Always read your travel insurance policy wording before you embark on that business or leisure trip.

Pre-empt nasty surprises wherever possible, so you can enjoy your voyage hassle-free!