Don’t let winter travel delays ruin your trip

Over the last couple of years, British travellers have experienced several periods of disruption to their journeys as a result of snow and ice. So, with the weather taking a decidedly chilly turn, what should you be thinking about to ensure your next journey goes smoothly?

Whether you are heading off on a winter getaway to soak up some sun or simply trying to get to and from work, here we offer advice to help keep you travelling by plane, train and car.

Going away on holiday?

Whether you are escaping the cold, wet January weather on a sun-filled holiday, enjoying the snow on a ski or snowboarding adventure, or heading away for a quick weekend city break, the last thing you’ll want is for your travel plans to be disrupted by weather conditions.

So, before setting off to the airport or railway station, check whether your plane or train is still operating as normal with your airline or train company. And allow additional time to get to your departure point in case roads are blocked or restricted.

Delays can affect cars as well as buses and other forms of public transport, so use sites such as the RAC, AA and the Highways Agency to find out up-to-date travel news as well as listening to local and national radio stations such as the BBC.

For those travelling by plane on an early flight, it may be better to travel to your airport the night before you depart and to stay in an airport hotel to ensure a stress-free start to your trip.

What if my flight is delayed or cancelled?

You have rights under EU law that govern what you are entitled to in the event of delays and cancellations for all airlines departing an EU airport -  such as food and drink and even compensation. You can also cancel and receive a full refund if you are delayed excessively. 

The rules are complex and vary depending on a range of factors, however there is a handy app you can download and refer to whether you are at home or in the airport – search for Your Passenger Rights at the app store for the full set of rules governing flights.

Alternatively, read Cathy Toogood’s article Delayed or cancelled flight? Know your rights for more helpful information.

What about my hotel?

For those who have booked separate flights and accommodation, you will also need to consider the consequences of not being able to turn up to your hotel for the night. Any costs associated to this will be borne by you, unless you can claim back on your travel insurance policy.

However, the quicker you can cancel the cost of any hotels booked, the less you will have to pay in cancellation charges for no shows and late arrivals.

If you have booked an ATOL-backed package, you will also have additional assistance from your tour operator who will advise. Contact yours via its helpline or duty office number, which will be supplied with your travel documents, and check the booking conditions for further advice and assistance.

Will I be covered by my travel insurance?

A good quality travel insurance policy will have clauses for travel delay, cancellation and curtailment of holidays that may offer a level of assistance if you miss your flight or your trip is cancelled. Some will also cover the costs of cancelled items such as hotels. Check yours now to know what you are covered for.

What if I am stuck overseas trying to get home?

The EU rights above apply, however they only apply to flights within the EU (travelling on any airline) and for flights on EU carriers back to EU countries from destinations outside of Europe.
If your journey does not have this protection - for example, if you are on an American Airlines flight from New York to London - then you will need to check what your airline is offering. Additionally, you should check your travel insurance policy for travel delay cover.

What about rail travel in the UK? Do I have rights?

We’ve all heard stories of the wrong kind of snow or ice on the lines, and Britain’s rail system can be severely affected by bad weather.

UK rail companies all have different rules regarding refunds and compensation for cancelled or delayed journeys. You’ll need to consult their passenger charters to see what applies to you and this information is either available online, at rail stations and sometimes from on-board staff.

However, when you have found this out, the procedure to claim anything back is actually quite straightforward. Simply complete the online or pre-printed claims form from your rail company and attach the original copies of your tickets to make your claim.

You should receive a reply within 28 days but ensure you keep copies of both your claim form and the tickets too.

And, if the reply doesn’t leave your satisfied, you should make a formal complaint to the rail company’s complaints department. You can find contact details online.

Should your claim or complaint leave you dissatisfied, the Office of Rail Regulation can direct you to the relevant arbitrator.

What about travelling by road?

Many will abandon their plans of travelling by rail or air and instead take to the roads in an attempt to ensure they reach their destination.

But, before doing this, it is vital to check whether it is safe and advisable to travel as well as looking online for estimated driving times. You will probably need to allow longer for your journey than normal.

If using your own car, ensure tyres, the battery, oil, lights, anti-freeze and water bottles are all checked. And it’s also wise to have a full tank of fuel.

Well-prepared drivers will also have warm clothing for all passengers in their vehicle as well as a supply of food and snacks, hot drinks in a flask and water.

It may also be worth having a shovel in your car in case snow gets really bad and you need to dig yourself out as well as spare screen wash and even a piece of old carpet to help get traction under tyres on ice and snow.

Plus, don’t forget a fully-charged mobile phone (and, if you can, an in-car charging facility), de-icer, a torch and the usual safety items such as reflective jackets, first aid kit and spare bulbs.

A sat-nav or road maps will also prove valuable should you have to plan alternative routes on roads you do not know.

Once the snow stops falling, beware of glare in the sunlight off the snow and ice, and pack your sunglasses to prevent yourself being blinded.

If you don’t have your own car, you could of course rent a vehicle to help get you to your destination.

Safe driving tips

Whether you are in your own car or a rented vehicle, follow Les Roberts’ top tips for winter driving.

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