What happens if (Irish) travelers are #stuckinparadise?

Paradise on Gili Trawangan, Lombok, Indonesia by Lisa Krüger-Franke
Paradise on Gili Trawangan, Lombok, Indonesia by Lisa Krüger-Franke

Stuck in an elevator, stuck in a traffic jam, stuck in a bad relationship – there are so many bad places one can be stuck in. But being stuck in paradise doesn’t sound too bad to most people. More beach days, more tanning, more surfing and more relaxing than planned, what more can you ask for?

Paradise on Gili Trawangan, Lombok, Indonesia by Lisa Krüger-Franke
Paradise on Gili Trawangan, Lombok, Indonesia by Lisa Krüger-Franke

“I had plans in Sydney the other day with friends I haven’t seen in a very long time but I had to cancel. It just sucks, because all of the other airlines are flying, just the Australian ones are overly careful”, says Anna.

She was one of the many people whose flight from Bali, Indonesia, to Australia was cancelled multiple times because of the volcanic eruption of Mount Rinjani on the neighbouring island Java in November 2015. During that time the Hashtag #stuckinbali ruled Twitter and Instagram. And all the pictures and tweets people were able to find following that Hashtag had one thing in common: They made the viewer envious of that person’s situation. But looking behind the scenes, it’s not always as glorious as it seems to be stuck in paradise.

Even though probably everyone who was ever stuck in their holiday location, knows, that there are worse places to be stuck. But they also know that it is despairing to have the power over your decision taken away from you by nature and careful airlines.

April 2010. Another volcanic eruption, probably the most famous one, namely of the unpronounceable volcano Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland, paralyzed the air traffic. This time even more flights are affected because it concerned almost the whole European airspace and led to the largest closure of airspace after the Second World War.

But volcanic eruptions are not the only reason why people are forced to stay in their holiday destination when they are actually supposed to be on their way home on a plane. Strikes, Weather Conditions, Mechanical Problems – it happens all the time.

Also last year, in the beginning of November, after ISIS allegedly bombed a plane on its way from Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, to St Petersburg, Russia, tens of thousands of tourists were stuck in Egypt because the air traffic to Egypt was stopped for days. In addition to all the general problems that emerge in a situation like that, fear ruled the tourist’s minds over there.

An airport waiting hall is no fun by basheertome (Flickr)
An airport waiting hall is no fun by basheertome (Flickr)

But what happens to passengers in the situation of cancelled flights? Do they have any rights?
The EU legislation set up some rules that apply in cases of flight cancellation. Due to that,
Aer Lingus passengers, for example, have several different options in case of a cancelled flight.
If there’s a possibility of rebooking the passenger onto another flight, Aer Lingus tries to do that at the earliest time possible or at least the next day. If the passenger can only leave the next day, the airline pays for a night of accommodation and the transport to and back from the hotel. Sometimes, if rebooking on another flight isn’t possible, the airlines, especially for domestic flights, try to book buses or trains, so the passengers get to their final destination as soon as possible.
The passengers also get the right to make two phone calls or emails. In addition to that they get food and drinks in a reasonable relation to the waiting time.
The financial compensation depends on the length of the flight route, a passenger gets between €250 and €600.

But, according to the EU law, those compensation rules only apply if the reason for a cancellation is not “extraordinary”. In case of strikes, the EU decided in 2013, that, if the airline did everything in their power to prevent the strike and it is still happening, this counts as an “extraordinary” case. All natural disasters causing problems in the airspace also count as extraordinary cases and are not compensated. This means, that airlines are not obliged to compensate passengers in any way in those cases. Luckily, in cases of recent strikes for example, the airlines still provided vouchers for meals and refreshments at the airport or sometimes even hotels for that night.

Flight cancelled by RichardGreaves (Flickr)
Flight cancelled by RichardGreaves (Flickr)

And what happens if any bigger problems evolve? There are always minor problems like not having enough clothes and toiletries for the unplanned additional days, which can be solved easily, but it can also get worse than that.

To look at the example of Bali again: Tourists can get into real financial issues being stuck there. Indonesia only offers a Visa on arrival for 30 days for US$ 35. If you go over that time, you need to pay US$ 20 per extra day in time of your departure or you extend your visa for another 30 days in advance, which is US$ 30. Although Indonesia renounced those overstay fees for passengers affected by the recent volcano eruptions, it is still possible that they need to be paid in other cases.

Often passengers are just on a layover when they find out their connecting flight to their final destination is cancelled. For a lot of countries around the world people need Visa that have to be requested in advanced. In those countries, it can be the case that passenger that are stuck, are not allowed to leave the airport or the hotel they get sent to until their flight is leaving. In this case, all the regulations mentioned above, like meals and refreshments, apply.

Aer Lingus plane by leppre (Flickr)
Aer Lingus plane by leppre (Flickr)

People with medical problems can also face difficulties. “In the case of a passenger needing additional medicine for their unplanned extended stay, they need to buy it themselves first, but get it reimbursed through our costumer relations as soon as possible”, says Aer Lingus.

Fortunately, the air traffic is, compared to the millions of planes flying every day, rarely affected by any major issues that lead to a closing, but some situations just can’t be prevented. But still, if a situation like the one on Bali appears again and a Hashtag such as #stuckinbali rules Social Media, one has to remember: All that glitters is not gold. Because there are more glamorous ways to sleep than on the floor of an airport.