Expert Simon Calder answers you latest travel questions

Tunnel troubles

Q: Do you have any thoughts on how badly Eurotunnel handled the stuck train earlier this week, both for the passengers in the tunnel itself and those with 10-plus hour delays at the terminal? How can they be encouraged to improve communications and handling in the future?

Rich72

A: On Tuesday afternoon a Calais-to-Folkestone car-carrying shuttle with around 100 vehicles on board came to a halt in the Channel Tunnel due to an alarm on the train. Eurotunnel tells me: “As a precautionary measure, for their safety and comfort, we transferred the passengers on board to another shuttle, via the service tunnel (which is there for exactly that purpose) whilst we investigated the cause of the alarm.

“The service tunnel is a functional environment built as a 50km long ‘lifeboat’ to provide a safe haven and enable an easy transfer to another train. The transfer train was another passenger shuttle – again a functional solution.

“Operations like this do take time, but they are for the safety of everyone and must be conducted carefully. Unfortunately, that means that other customers can suffer extended crossing times. However, we put on additional departures to try to reduce that as much as possible and offered the option of a transfer to a ferry as an alternative.

“Whilst some passengers experienced a longer journey than planned, everyone was kept safe at all times.”

The Channel Tunnel has the obvious and significant dimension of being deep below the sea. If a ferry suffers a technical problem in the Channel (as they do from time to time) people are fully aware of their surroundings. But on a Eurotunnel shuttle, or indeed a Eurostar train, it is different.

In addition, Eurotunnel is often popular among people with concerns about mobility or anxiety, because motorists and passengers remain in their vehicles. Unlike on ferries, they don’t need to clear the car deck.

But in Tuesday’s event people were offloaded from the familiarity of their vehicle into the surface tunnel and then into another shuttle – during which, nothing was moving for passengers at both Folkestone and Calais who were hoping to travel.

Eurotunnel will no doubt look at how it could have communicated better. I think there is also a case for a routine safety briefing that provides more depth about the evacuation plan – just as airline passengers are told in great detail what to expect in the highly unlikely event of having to evacuate.

Flight changes

Q: My British Airways flight from Marseille to Heathrow, then to Belfast, was cancelled on Friday 1 July and we rebooked for the following day. This flight was then cancelled and we couldn’t get a flight until Wednesday 5 July. We had to get another hotel and extend our car hire. Expenses for four people added up to £3,000 . BA will only reimburse €1,000. (£850) Am I entitled to full compensation from Heathrow airport? Should BA pay full amount?

Dee 3

A: In principle what should have happened, regardless of the cause, is that you should have been flown back on 1 July (or, if it was too late on that day, on 2 July) via Paris, Amsterdam, Manchester or anywhere else that would get you home.

Heathrow airport won’t be interested in compensating you, but I believe there’s a strong case for claiming from an airline if your rights are not spelt out.

Q: I’m planning to spend a few weeks in the Bahamas over Christmas. I was originally booked to fly out on 14 December. But British Airways has cancelled my flight and rescheduled it for a day earlier. This means I’ll have to pay for an extra day’s accommodation (which isn’t cheap). Can I claim the cost of the hotel from BA? I’m flight-only, not British Airways Holidays.

Spursman

A: As background: British Airways is cancelling more than 12,000 flights over the next seven months, taking around two million seats off the market. Most of the cancellations are of short-haul departures from London Heathrow to domestic and European destinations. But some intercontinental flights, such as yours, are also grounded.

I imagine the bookings for services to and from the Bahamas in the first half of December are not as plentiful as BA would like. The airline would ideally consolidate two departures to the capital, Nassau, into one without incurring any additional costs. When passengers’ itineraries are “preponed”, as yours has been, your entitlement to recompense for additional costs is somewhat cloudy: European air passengers’ rights rules are much more focused on delays than on getting somewhere ahead of time. However, I hope I can provide some good prospects on your case.

When a British or EU airline cancels a flight, it cannot simply move your booking to another day. Those passengers’ rights rules, as interpreted by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), stipulate that the cancelling carrier must get you to your destination on the same day as originally booked if that is logistically possible – on any airline that will get you there.

The easiest way to proceed: invite British Airways to comply with the CAA by flying you to the Bahamas on the original date on Virgin Atlantic, which has an 8am flight from Heathrow to Nassau. The current one-way fare is somewhere north of £2,300 – but that is BA’s concern, not yours. The airline may prefer to offer you another routing on your original day of travel, 14 December, on BA to Miami with a connection – or it may choose to negotiate with you about paying for that extra night. I hope you will let me know how that discussion goes.

Q: Five weeks ago my easyJet flight to Milan was cancelled at less than five hours’ notice. It was the first day of the school holidays, so flights were jam-packed and nothing was available on easyJet for days. I called them and pointed out they were obliged to fly me on any available airline; they agreed that but said I had to pay myself and they would then look at my claim.

I forked out £650 for British Airways flights. Since then easyJet has paid me the £220 statutory compensation for the cancellation, but has yet to reimburse the BA tickets. Isn’t there a deadline for easyJet to reply to my claim – and shouldn’t easyJet have paid for the replacement flight in the first place?

Jo E, via the latest Ask Me Anything at independent.co.uk

A: While airlines’ obligations in the event of cancellations are clearly stated, actually getting them to comply in a timely fashion is another matter. Under European air passengers’ rights rules, a carrier that grounds a flight – for any reason – should set about finding, and paying for, an alternative. I see this as a crucial part of the rules, because otherwise there is clear discrimination against travellers who cannot afford to spend £650, as you did, on replacement flights.

Given that you did pay out, it is clearly incumbent on the airline to reimburse passengers in a timely fashion. But there are several obstacles. One is the scale of the disruption this summer: with British Airways and easyJet cancelling flights wholesale by the tens of thousands, an awful lot of passengers have issues to pursue. Next, with airlines still mired in debt as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, they are in no great rush to pay out cash – and will want to ensure they have no option before sending payment.

Finally, carriers know there is little chance of any action being taken against them and can therefore delay paying out with impunity. So, just be patient – and if the delay costs you a significant sun in interest, advise easyJet you will be adding it to the claim.

Q: EasyJet just cancelled my flight on Saturday and it’s been rescheduled for next Tuesday. Am I due any compensation?

Yellowbag

A: Compensation depends on the cause of the cancellation, but at 48 hours’ notice I imagine the airline will find it difficult to plead “extraordinary circumstances”. Equally pressingly, easyJet must get you to your destination on Saturday at any cost on any airline. Which I hope they told you about …

Q: My flight on 30 June with British Airways from Heathrow to Marseille was cancelled with less than 24 hours notice. My brother was also booked on the same flight. Since we were going for a wedding we had to arrive on the day that the original flight was booked.

BA had no other availability for flights on 30 June so we went ahead and separately booked the last two seats on a Ryanair flight flying that evening. Following our cancellation email from BA we heard nothing more.

When we returned home we each put in a claim to BA for reimbursement of the cost of the Ryanair flight. Not knowing if I was entitled to it, I also claimed compensation (my brother did not). My brother’s claim for the full cost of the Ryanair ticket, which cost the same as mine, has been fully reimbursed. BA have rejected my claim in its entirety and say that they paid my brother in error. I still have not received a penny from them since my flight was cancelled.

I would be very grateful for advice as to what I am entitled to.

Anna T W

A: I am not sure of the legal grounds on which British Airways is refusing your claim. The Civil Aviation Authority, which stipulates that an airline must get you there on the day if any seats are available, will be interested in your experience, I imagine.

Testing times

Q: Do you think that places that only got rid of testing this spring/summer such as the US and New Zealand, will bring back testing, if Covid cases increase over the autumn and winter?

Independenter

A: Very good question. I need to warn you first of all that you might want to seek a second opinion, given that I have been overoptimistic throughout the miserable coronavirus pandemic about travel restrictions – and in particular them being lifted. But both the nations you name have recently swivelled from extreme caution to “welcome back everyone”.

Given the severe damage caused to the travel industry by the responses to the Covid crisis, I don’t believe governments will want to take that route again. And of course New Zealand – like Australia – is currently moving from winter to spring in the southern hemisphere.

Turkey alert

Q: I emailed you about my sister who is stuck alone in Turkey after changing her ticket to an open one as she was covid positive when the rest of her young family were flying back. Turkish Airlines insisted on PCR test to change her flight and since getting that Turkish law states she must isolate for seven days from date of test. She’s been isolating now for 10 days and earliest she can leave is 30 August. Turkish Airlines have refused to put her in business class or let us upgrade.

The next flight in economy is 6 September 2022. She has chronic health condition and young children now in the UK. The youngest is autistic and she really needs to get home as soon as possible. What can she do?

Jane R

A: Sorry to hear this. You should contact the Foreign Office on 020 7008 5000 and inform them that a British citizen is in distress and needs help. Just on Turkish Airlines: I cannot understand why any airline would not allow a passenger to upgrade in business class on payment of the appropriate surcharge.

Delay compensation

Q: Jet2 are rejecting most compensation claims for flight delays over the past few months citing “extraordinary circumstances” for reasons such as staff sickness, I know this wasn’t the reason for my delay but am still expecting to be fobbed off with the same generic email everyone else is getting. What’s the next step to appeal this?

Mike 182

A: In general I encourage people who believe they have a valid case for compensation under European air passengers’ rights rules to apply direct to the airline. But some people who feel they are getting the runaround turn to “no win, no fee” solicitors such as Bott & Co. It’s far from ideal, because you will typically lose one-third of any compensation.

Indian glummer

Q: I want to go to India in November but have found out that their eVisa scheme is suspended for British travellers. It looks like, to get a paper tourist visa, I need to book an appointment at one of the Indian visa offices (Bradford being my closest), hand over my passport, pay £116, and hope they process my application in time. Is this correct? Or is there a simpler way?

Andy A

A: No one loves India more than me (Mumbai is possibly my favourite city in the whole world), but for almost all my travelling life the nation has made swathed any trip in red tape. And right now, even though eVisas are available for citizens of (for example) Belarus and Russia, they do not appear to be on offer for UK travellers. I do hope I am wrong with this, but I’ve checked the list of eligible nationalities several times over and cannot see United Kingdom, Great Britain, England, Wales, etc listed. https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/evisa/tvoa.html

Brexit bonus

Q: If I arrive in Portugal on 4 January 2023 and stay to 26 February – a total of 54 days. Can I then go to France in April or May for another 14 days? I am confused about the post-Brexit “90/180 rule”.

Then I won’t be travelling to the EU again until January 2024. Many thanks.

T Toplis

A: The 90/180 day rule is one of the many consequences of Brexit for travel. The short answer is, it depends on whether you are planning to be in the Schengen Area (most of the European Union plus some hangers-on) any time from this coming weekend (28 August) onwards. If the answer is no, then you are all clear. You can do your 54 days (almost eight weeks) in beautiful Portugal, and will then be able to be in the France or any other Schengen country for a maximum of 36 further days (just over five weeks) before the end of June. After that the January dates start being erased and you can go back.

Meanwhile, given that a majority voted to leave the European Union, I am genuinely interested to hear from anyone who can offer a benefit of Brexit for travellers (not counting duty-free, which is debatable, or “blue passports” since we could have had those at any time).

Online travel agents

Q: On Monday I booked flights for Vienna through Kiwi.com, using Wizz Air. The flights are for March 2023 and cost £176. This morning, Kiwi informed me that the carrier had changed flight times and I have a few options.

1. To accept an alternative flight (the times do not work for us as it’s only a short break). Most of these will cost up to double the original price.

2. To accept £41 of Kiwi credit immediately

3. To have an assisted refunded where they will get back what they can from the carrier but this might be in the form of vouchers. Takes approx 3 months

4. To pay £20 for the above but will take 6 weeks.

I would just like a straightforward refund but Kiwi say they cannot do this. Am I stuck with the above options?

Lizzie R

A: I am really sorry to hear that you booked through Kiwi.com – I don’t think I have ever heard anything good about this Czech online travel agent, and I have heard plenty of complaints. These options are complete rubbish. But Kiwi knows that its location in Brno is comfortably distant for legal action, and that Brexit has ended the European small claims procedure for British travellers.

As you will no doubt have worked out, had you booked direct with Wizz Air then it would have been a simple matter to get an instant refund. As things stand, it rather depends why you choose to use Kiwi.

If you were persuaded to click through on a flight-comparison website such as Skyscanner, you could contact their customer services team.

Q: We were booked onto a flight that did not exist, even though lastminute.com said it did. They have refused to resolve the issue and left nine people abandoned at Antalya airport with no way home.

We’ve contacted Abta, the CAA and our MP. Is there anything else we can do to make last minute.com look up from their computer to realise the flight didn’t exist and we were forced to pay £6,500 to get our party home? The service has been horrible with over 17 calls, six hours on the phone and no answer to what we should do.

Hugh B

A: Given the sums involved, I suggest you engage a lawyer. However, as I discovered when I tried to reclaim money owed to me by lastminute.com, dealing with a firm based in Switzerland makes life tricky. Good luck.

Passport problems

Q: EasyJet denied me boarding on 26 July 2022 stating my passport not valid. The passport was issued on 22 Sept 2012 and expires 22 April 2023. The airline is continually rejecting my claim of unfairly denied boarding, even after I posted to them the Independent article where EasyJet admitted misunderstandings and agreed they were wrong when a grandmother was denied boarding in similar circumstances to mine. I suppose they think I’ll just give up. So frustrating.

Tam 1

A: Don’t give up: it looks to me as though easyJet has been compounding the damage it caused to people’s holidays in wrongly denying them boarding by routinely rejecting compensation. I am tackling the airline on its record.

American dream

Q: I’m in the process of reviving a trip to the Big Apple that got “covidated” early in the pandemic. We live in the Algarve and our flights to the US (Miami) have always been with TAP Portugal via Lisbon.

We could do that for this trip too but there’s also the option of going via Dublin with Aer Lingus, which works better for our logistics. However, I’m concerned that the connection time of 1h45mins may be too tight, given the (very appealing) US pre-clearance. Obviously nobody can know for sure but if they’re selling it, presumably it’s expected to be doable, right? Thoughts?

Fiona M G

A: If Aer Lingus is selling it, then I would take it. And these difficult days pre-clearance – going through American frontier formalities while still on the ground in Dublin – is an absolute Godsend.

Earlier this month Lonely Planet co-founder Tony Wheeler was waiting almost three hours to go through US Customs & Border Protection at Chicago recently. And if he’s suffering, what hope the rest of us?