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How to survive a disaster on holiday
As Hurricane Sandy bears down on the US East Coast and threatens to unleash havoc on the region’s transport system, tens of thousands of people have had their travel plans thrown into chaos. Flight cancellations, road closures and a complete shut-down of buses, trains and subway services in New York City have left many stranded and having to face the worst of the predicted ‘Frankenstorm’.
Even if you aren't stranded in the US at the moment, there are plenty of other tough travel situations you might find yourself in. Here are a few steps you can take to stay safe and reduce the impact on your travel plans.
Before you travel
It pays to be prepared and wherever you’re going there is always a risk that travel plans can be disrupted by unforeseen events.
1. Let the FCO know where you’ll be
A few years ago the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) launched the LOCATE service for Brits travelling abroad. It’s quite simple – just enter your full travel plans onto the site along with your emergency contact details. In a crisis (like a natural disaster, civil unrest or terrorist attack) local embassy staff can contact you and provide assistance in staying safe and getting away.
2. Get decent travel insurance
The cost of travel insurance can be very low, but as with most things in life you get what you pay for. Check the small print. Will your policy cover you for the cost of rearranging flights at short notice if there’s a natural disaster? When the ash cloud grounded flights over the UK in 2010 only a few insurance companies provided support for their customers. Remember, you’ll only find out how good your insurance is when it really matters.
3. Back up your important documents
Keep a copy of your passport, tickets, insurance and credit card details in a secure online location. If you are separated from your luggage for any reason, your situation will be a lot easier if you can easily provide document copies and access the necessary emergency contact numbers.
At the scene
In an unfolding disaster the best advice will depend on the situation but your actions should always be governed by the need to stay safe.
1. Do what you’re told
If the local authorities are telling people to stay indoors, don’t head out to try and get some exciting 'breaking news’ photos. If you’ve never been in a hurricane it might be very tempting to experience its full force. Don’t do it, or it might be you that becomes the breaking news story.
2. Keep in touch with relatives at home
In the midst of a crisis, mobile phone networks can become overloaded or can even be brought down altogether. An SMS or quick call is enough to let people know that you’re safe and well. It can spare hours of agony and worry if the network later crashes. Try not to take up vital communications bandwidth that could be needed by emergency services just to upload photos to your Facebook friends.
Once the crisis is over you might choose to go home or carry on your holiday, but in either case, you will probably need to arrange a new flight.
1. Stay on top of your travel plans
Keep in touch with your travel agent (or airline if you booked direct), they should provide advice and should get you moving as soon as it’s safe to do so.
2. Know your rights
Under European law if your flight departs from the EU, or is flying to the EU with an EU-based airline, and is cancelled or delayed by over five hours, you are entitled to rebook on another flight or cancel and get a refund (only on the cost of your ticket, not your full holiday).
If you have booked through an ATOL-bonded travel agent as part of a holiday package the travel agent is obliged to cover the costs of sorting out your travel arrangements.
If you’ve booked direct with a non-EU airline you may be offered alternative flight arrangements but you should also contact your insurance company to make sure you know what you’re entitled to claim.
3. Keep track of any expenses
Whether it’s an additional night or two in a hotel, a rental car to get you to another airport or the cost of meals for your extra unplanned time away, keep receipts for everything you spend. You’ll need these to make a claim from your insurance when you get home.
Here are some other helpful sites to visit: