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What to do if you are stranded abroad due to your flight being cancelled or similar airline cancellations

Stranded at an airport abroad due to flight cancellations

Stranded at an airport abroad due to flight cancellations

As the volcanic eruptions of Eyjafjallajokull in April 2010 showed us, mass travel chaos that can last for days as a result of unforeseen and uncontrollable circumstances is not at all unlikely (albeit a rare occurrence).

So what should you do if you happen to get stranded abroad as a result of flight cancellations?

You could do like Peter Griffin and purchase Volcano insurance 🙂

Alternatively, here’s a list of quick tips that could save you time and potentially money too (the hassle is yours to keep but that too can be limited).

Call for help

If you have a travel insurance policy, the first thing to do is ring your insurance company up and notify them to the incident. Ask what your rights and obligations are and be absolutely certain that you have understood those well and that they understand your situation clearly.

Remember that simply by purchasing the majority of your holiday on your credit or debit/charge card, you may very well be entitled to travel insurance without requiring the purchase of an additional policy. Again, give them a ring and find out what they cover.

To save you time, it may be worth printing your travel insurance policy’s terms and conditions out before you commence your journey. Make sure that you print the latest terms off the insurer’s website to ensure that you are up to date with whatever changes they may have made to it.

File expenses

Keep all your receipts. You could get money back later.

Keep all your receipts. You could get money back later.

Regardless of whether you think you will get compensated or not, request receipts for everything you purchase (even food) and especially for higher cost expenditures such as hotel bills, taxis etc. In the event of a claim, these will be your only access to a refund. If you can get those receipts in English, that would be even better.

If possible, buy things with a credit card or any other card that may offer expenses-cover in such events. That way they could simply refund the expenses to the card and you do not have to part with any real money.

Attempt to rebook or ask for refund

Flight cancelled? Try to rebook or get a refund.

Flight cancelled? Try to rebook or get a refund.

Assuming that the cancellation of your travel relates to a flight and that you are already outside your country of departure, you need to communicate with a representative of the airline or the tour operator that charters the flight you have boarded. Try to find out what the chances of a rebooking are and what type of care and/or compensation they can offer to you.

Alternatively, if you want to seek alternative forms of travel, ask how you can cancel your flight and whether there are any time limits on doing so. If you can drag out the flight cancellation, do it for as long as possible as it’s always good to have an alternative to fall back to in case your other plans don’t work.

Ask for food and hotel

Now, here’s where things can get confusing so pay close attention…


you are entitled to “care” funds which at the very least cover accommodation, transport to and from your accommodation and food.

This entitlement only applies if you have asked to be rescheduled on another flight. You are not entitled to “care” if you have asked for a refund and decided to make your own alternative plans, although you can still ask the airline to provide full or partial compensation for this, even though they are allowed to refuse it.

The right to “care” is secured by European law and applies even in cases of “acts of God/Nature” or “force majeure” as it’s also known.

This includes exploding volcanoes, tornadoes, storms, floods, fires and other such natural disasters. Your airline must simply pay up for “care” of their stranded passengers! Depending on how well organised your airline is, they may offer you meal and hotel vouchers or instead refund you the cost of food and accommodation if they are unable to offer such help themselves (provided of course that they are reasonable expenses – eating at a 5-star Michelin restaurant will probably not apply unless it’s the only place in the area where you can get food).

You are also entitled to a refund of the cost of alternative travel to the destination that your airline was meant to fly you to, provided again, that it is within reason (taking a taxi from Greece to Norway is most probably not covered).

There is no time limit to these provisions. Airlines must pay for as long as the disruption lasts.


then you are still entitled to a flight cancellation refund or rebooking, however all other expenses such as hotels, food etc. will need to be taken care of by your travel insurance policy (if any).

*** PLEASE NOTE! ***

In ordinary circumstances, airlines may also compensate you for a cancellation with additional means such as a fixed cash sum. In instances however where “acts of God/Nature/force majeure” has caused the cancellation, they are only obliged to provide you with “care”, which generally translated to accommodation and food.

It is important that you remember this; an airline has every right to deny compensation on the grounds of “acts of God” but they are obliged by law to provide “care” to affected passengers in the form of hotel and accommodation.

Are you employed? Then read this

Being stranded abroad can result in loss of income, unless you can work remotely.

Being stranded abroad can result in loss of income, unless you can work remotely.

Unless you are on a business trip, your employer could not care less about the fact that you are stranded abroad. As far as they’re concerned, every day you spend outside your agreed holiday is unpaid.

So ring up your employer and ask them what the situation is in this case. Ideally, you’d want to arrange for the time of your delay to be regarded as paid leave and taken out of your holiday allowance.

If you are fortunate enough to have a computer with you, ask about the possibility of doing work remotely (if this even applies!)

Some travel insurance policies may even compensate you for loss of income in such instances, so check with them first before you start worrying about an unfinished spreadsheet a thousand miles from home…

Start thinking of Plan B (and fast!)

Act fast, consider all options and remember, sometimes the shortest way back is not necessarily the quickest

Act fast, consider all options and remember, sometimes the shortest way back is not necessarily the quickest

If you have decided that you want to return home via an alternative travel method such as car, bus, boat or train, then you need to think of what you may be up against.

If the disruption you are facing is anywhere close to the scale of that of the Icelandic volcano, the chances are that there will be many others that have started to think of taking the same route home as yourself.

You need to act and you need to do so fast. If you are traveling with others, split up and explore all possibilities simultaneously. Opt for the more direct routes, even if they are longer in time.

Car hire will generally be an expensive option as you will need to hire one-way which adds enormously to the cost.

Buses are meant to be cheaper but direct connections over long distances are a rarity.

Trains are probably what you’d want to go for first, although their fares care rise sharply and since they rely on central hub connections, things are bound to get very crowded very quickly.

If you live near a port, examine the possibilities of getting home by boat. This may not necessitate a trip on board a luxury cruise-liner! Many cargo ships have a dozen or so beds that are generally left empty and can be sold to passengers who want to hitch a ride. It will be an interesting experience and will get you closer to home if all else has failed.

Take a deep breath and enjoy the madness!

Whatever you do, it is important that you do it quickly in order to get yourself out of the situation as easily as possible. Remember that despite the seemingly overpowering force of such natural events, a lot of influence on your course of action is still in your hands.

A 45-min queue for a train ticket may seem long but it’s bound to grow to a 4.5-hour line in a short amount of time. So stick to your gut instinct and hope for the best.

…and if you’re the luck type who is just “hanging out” at a foreign place without any rush to get home, then sit back, enjoy the madness and send us a story or two!


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