herald

Monday 25 September 2017

Eoghan Corry: As those ashes keep coming, should we book a getaway or not? Sure, but first some tips

Our new neighbour, Icelandia's Ashes, looks like loitering off our west coast for some time to come. So do we book that summer holiday or not?

Let's face it, a home holiday can be brilliant when the sun shines -- but it can be a dreary prospect if the weather is not right.

The people who are trying to tell us where the cloud will move next have been getting the weather forecast wrong for 200 years. Remember the barbecue summer they promised us last year?

The answer to the big holiday question is, yes, we should book.

You would want to be very unlucky to have your travel plans disrupted by the ash cloud.



FERRY

Last weekend, one in 14 flights in Western Europe was grounded. The rest proceeded as normal.

If you book with a regulated holiday company, you are guaranteed that you will be looked after. If you pay an extra tenner for one of those flight cancellation clauses on your travel insurance, you can get the ferry home.

We are right to be worried, however. The travel business has not reacted with any great creativity to the biggest crisis it has faced in years.

Most of our problems to date have been self inflicted.

Our threshold for flying was too low.

Indeed, what threshold? We did not have a threshold at all, which turned the country into a no-fly zone long before it should have been.

Now, when we do have a threshold, most people are convinced it is ridiculously cautious.

The chief executives of airlines, including Christophe Mueller, are questioning whether it is practicable to keep it.

Nor have we any real information to help us reduce it.

We should have been testing ash clouds for the past 30 years, since BA008 flew through the volcano in Indonesia. Just eight out of 100 aircraft that have flown through ash clouds in recorded history have shown any material damage. But we know little else.

Our information systems were appalling. Bad enough that our flights were cancelled, but nobody seemed to be able to tell us whether or when we would fly.

Go to your airline, said the airport.

But the airlines were hiding in the labyrinthine recesses of the technology they have bamboozled us with in recent years.

The airline websites which were supposed to give the answers crashed. The telephone help desks were overwhelmed.

The check-in desks at the airports were stormed by angry passengers as a frightened assistant, who knew less than the passengers, was reduced to handing out euro-a-minute telephone numbers. And our safeguards were also inadequate. Travel insurance policies proved worthless when we read the fine print.

The European Community consumer rights charter, for all that it was talked up during the first ash shutdown, is not going to be much use against the combined forces of the airline industry.

Even the commissioner, Siim Kallas, is rowing back on the promise of free board and lodging for anyone who has been delayed.

Yes, book your holiday.

Book the ferry to France and taste the excitement of a driving holiday in Brittany or the Vendee.



ANCESTORS

Book a holiday far away, where there are no volcanoes. Hotel prices in Florida are 20pc down on peak, and the Aer Lingus to Orlando will find some way of flying around the cloud.

Try to move your transfer airports from the traditional big four in Europe to somewhere farther afield, like Abu Dhabi or Istanbul.

And pray to the great mountain god that the ash cloud will be broken up by the winds.

It worked for our Celtic ancestors.

The oak before the ash they used to say.

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