Snowbound Travel & How To Ease The Pain!

This winter has already delivered the delights of that Christmas card scene, but it has also presented challenges to the travel infrastructure.

This blog post is tagged with:

Winter Travel Consumer Rights

I have been asked on radio why we as a country appear to be paralysed when a couple of centimetres of snow falls and in my view,

there can only be one answer; proportionality.

Whilst many travellers can cite experiences in various destinations, in Europe and beyond, where the availability of snow-clearing equipment is abundant, the situation in the UK is somewhat different. I think it simply comes down to that argument of proportionality, because that discussion will follow the line, that the UK is not generally affected by severe winter conditions so therefore the expense cannot be justified. I think that position is wrong. If an infrastructure has been created, whether that be in Public or Private hands, then those entities must surely factor into their ‘proportionality’ discussions, the effect on Citizens/Consumers and their daily working-business/private lives; those are quantifiable costs and cannot be ignored?

In the meantime, whilst those who control the infrastructure consider their next steps, particularly as it is likely that we shall experience further extreme winter conditions through this season, our minds must turn to Consumers and how they can best mitigate or alleviate the inconvenience to their travel plans; here are my 6 top-tips:

  1. Road Travel. Simply there are no rights to protect you if you intend to travel for pleasure our business. The government or private road operators will simply claim an ‘Act of God’ or a ‘force majeure’ in any complaint or attempt to claim for what a Consumer may view as a mismanagement of the road network. It remains to be seen whether any Consumer or a Group of Consumers (possibly in the company of businesses) would mount a legal action to claim for their losses?
  2. Travelling by Car. The important thing to remember is that road conditions in severe weather may present challenges to you as a driver, that you have never experienced before. Whatever your skill-set is as a driver, always allow extra time for your journey. This is vitally important if you are trying to get to a ferry-port, train-station or an airport! Be prepared for travelling by road and consider alternative routes to get to your destination and above all, make sure that you carry with you equipment that will keep your car moving or keep you warm; think about snow-chains, route-planners via online maps or sat-navs, extra clothing, food and drink just in case you get stuck; make sure that you have a fully charged phone before you travel in wintery conditions!
  3. Travel by Coach or Bus. As we have seen, motorways have become clogged, with motorists being stranded. If you travel by coach, EU Regulation 181/2011 provides rights to re-routing, refunds and compensation. It also provides rights to information and care, but, importantly in this regulation, severe weather cancels any right to overnight accommodation! This regulation is in my view, the unsung hero of Consumer Regulation; it is not widely known nor promoted - carry the Regulation and make sure that you receive your rights!
  4. Travel by Air. This is the one area that attracts the most controversy; it is also the one mode of transport where you are likely to be faced with the ‘Act of God’ argument. Whilst ‘force majeure’ might prevent you accessing compensation it does not prevent obligations to keep you informed or indeed to provide you with care. EU Regulation 261/2004 provides those basic rights, where, on a sliding time-scale, obligations fall upon the airlines to provide you with information, refreshments and where appropriate, an overnight stay in a hotel. They are the basic ‘rights’ that Consumers can receive and no matter what time of the year you may travel, you should always carry a copy of the Regulations for reference, in the event that your flight is delayed or cancelled! On the question of compensation, again, this has not been challenged. Consider this: if an airport, which openly presents itself as a capable operator, fails to provide adequate equipment to manage those operations in inclement weather, can it be right that they should be allowed to rely upon the ‘Act of God’ defence?
  5. Travel by Rail. In recent days, passengers have suffered with train cancellations. Rail travel also attracts useful Consumer rights under EU Regulation 1371/2007. That Regulation is not as comprehensive as that given to air passengers, but Consumers ‘may request ’ compensation for delays or cancellations. You will need to watch out for the term’ exceptional circumstances’ and other reasons, which provide the basis for not offering compensation. Nonetheless, whilst we wait to see if this point will be challenged, passengers are entitled to receive care and assistance along with information! Carry the Regulations and request those rights!
  6. Travel Insurance. Above all, make sure that you carry this form of protection. Do not simply buy the cheapest insurance; at this time of year always pay extra for travel disruption cover potentially arising from weather or other events. If you are delayed or prevented from travelling, always call your insurer and seek their advice on what you should do next; it is very important to keep them in the loop when things go wrong!

These simple points will help you to think about how to plan your travel from A to B, but more importantly, how to access rights that will take some stress out of disrupted travel!