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Did ‘the beast from the east’ spoil your travel plans? What are your rights?

The snow has already melted (or is melting) in much of the country, but after last week's weather brought travel misery to millions we look at what passengers can do to try and get refunds, compensation or rebook their journeys.

Last week’s intrusion of cold arctic air, dubbed ‘the beast from the east’ combined with the Atlantic storm ‘Emma’ to bring freezing conditions and high wind speeds, with the Met Office issuing several amber and red weather warnings.

As a consequence of the weather, millions of journeys were disrupted or cancelled, so what are your rights if you were one of the passengers or holiday makers left out of pocket last week?

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What you can do if your airline lets you down

If your flight is delayed, your airline must provide meals and refreshments to match the length of the delay, and  accommodation costs (if required).

If you are delayed by more than five hours and decide not to travel, you are entitled to a refund paid by the airline within seven days.

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If your rail travel was disrupted

If your train is cancelled or delayed and you choose not to travel, you are entitled to a full refund.

If you decide not to travel for another reason, you can usually get a refund less the cost of an admin fee (which shouldn’t be more than £10).

However bear in mind that some tickets (usually the cheaper booked in advance fares), are not refundable.

If your train is delayed and you decide to still travel, you may be entitled to compensation. The amount of compensation you can claim will depend on who you travelled with and the type of ticket you had.

Extraordinary circumstances

However, the bad news is compensation or refunds might not be possible to claim if disrupted by ‘the beast from the east’.

As the rules state if there were ‘extraordinary circumstances’ which delayed your flight the airline may not have to pay compensation. Extraordinary circumstances include:

  • Severe weather
  • Security risks
  • Strike action
  • Political instability
  • Air traffic management decisions
  • Technical problems with an aircraft

And it’s a similar story for train companies, who may not pay out if the delay was caused by something outside the control of the rail industry.

These include (but are not limited to), vandalism, exceptionally severe weather and when the police or emergency services close the line.

And with ‘life threatening’ conditions being declared by the Met Office’s red warnings, airlines and train companies can claim it was very reasonable to cancel services.

Carrier discretion

Though often, airlines and train companies will do something to help their customers, and it’s common to allow you to rebook your journey at another date for no cost.

For example, British Airways said in a statement last week:

“We recognise the uncertainty that the bad weather may be causing customers and have therefore introduced a range of flexible rebooking options for customers flying to or from London Heathrow, London Gatwick or London City airports.

“If you are due to travel on any short [or long] haul service up to and including Sunday 4 March, regardless of whether your flight is currently showing as operating or not, you can rebook your flight to a later date and travel on dates up to and including Wednesday 21 March.”

However, airlines, train companies and other passenger carriers are not necessarily under any obligation to provide compensation or refunds after an “extraordinary circumstance”.

But if you do feel entitled to compensation and your airline is being unhelpful you can contact the Consumer Council for more assistance.

Your rights are protected by European Law (Regulation (EC) 261/2004) and are the same on all airlines, and with the rail travel your rights can be found in the National Rail Conditions of Travel and train company’s Passenger’s Charters.

Claiming back through your credit card

If you are entitled to a refund and have exhausted the customer service channels from your airline or train company, you could still get a refund from your credit card provider under Section 75 of your credit card’s protection service.

Section 75 is a piece of legislation that means your credit card provider and the trader you made the purchase from are equally liable if something goes wrong with a purchase you made on your credit card.

This could be useful to give you peace of mind for all types of holiday booking, such as booking hotels or other expensive payments you might appreciate some extra refund protections for.

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