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Delays and cancellations are expected from today as French air traffic controllers begin a six-day strike.
The strike over budget cuts is not as large as first feared, as one of the two unions that announced the action backed out at the last minute. However, flights to and from France, and also many flights that travel across French airspace will still be cancelled or delayed.
Eurocontrol, a European air safety organisation, estimated almost 14,000 hours of delays over the strike period. A similar walk out last year led to the cancellation of around 1,800 flights a day across Europe.
Ryanair has cancelled 26 flights to and from France, and British Airways has cancelled three return flights from Heathrow to Toulouse, Marseille and Lyon. Easyjet has cancelled 28 flights, but none of these are from UK airports.
Airlines have said that they will update customers daily on further cancellations.
BA said: “The level of disruption is likely to fluctuate in different parts of France at different parts of each day.
“Unfortunately this industrial action is also highly likely to lead to delays on other short-haul services which have to overfly France.”
“We expect to receive information from the French authorities the day before each strike event as to the levels of mandated cancellations for all airlines on each route.
“We aim to publish our revised schedules by 1400 GMT each day for the following day’s flights.”
Advice for travellers affected by the strikes
A statement on the Easyjet website said: “For cancelled flights, all our customers will be offered a free of charge transfer to a new flight or a full refund.
“We strongly advise customers who wish to travel and want to rebook Easyjet flights to AVOID rebooking flights for any day between 24th-30th June as there is a high likelihood of further disruption that could cause further cancellations.”
Ryanair has urged the French Government and European Union to intervene, calling for the air traffic controllers’ right to strike to be removed and in the meantime to allow neighbouring air traffic providers to keep the skies over France open over the strike period.
Ryanair’s chief marketing officer, Kenny Jacobs said: “It is high time the EU Commission removed these air traffic controllers’ right to strike, in the same way as ATC in the US, and many of Europe’s armies and police forces, are prohibited from striking by law, to stop Europe being held to ransom by a small number of air traffic controllers every summer.”
Urgent contingency plans have been put in place at the Passport Office to cope with the huge demand in passport applications.
It has recruited extra staff to operate telephone helplines with extended opening hours from 07:00 to 22:00 weekdays and from 08:00 to 18:00 at weekends. Back office staff have been redeployed to help clear the reported backlog.
Travellers facing an anxious wait for their passports and are due to travel in the next few days are advised to contact the Passport Office directly on 0300 222 00 00. Anyone who applied for a passport by post or the Check & Send service may be able to upgrade to a Premium service.
Standard adult passports cost £72.50 to renew or £81.25 if you use the Post Office’s Passport Check and Send service. Child passports cost £46 or £54.75 respectively.
The premium service costs £128 and means passports can be collected within four hours of being approved. The fast-track service costs £103 with the passport returned within a week of the application being approved.
Passport chief executive Paul Pugh denied a backlog, claiming that 97% of passport renewals and child passports are being processed within the three week turnaround.
“Staff were brought in immediately to respond to the extra demand; we are operating seven days a week and our couriers are delivering passports within 24 hours of being produced.
“We have issued almost three million passports for UK customers in 2014, including over one million issued in the eight weeks since the start of April,” he said.
Mike Jones, of the PCS union, told the BBC: “Thousands of people complain that it has taken more than two months for them to get passports. That clearly is a backlog.”
Thousands of holidaymakers could miss out on their summer holidays because delays at the Passport Office mean they won’t receive their passports on time.
The Telegraph reports that some new applications are taking as much as two months to process, leading to fears that the backlog could worsen as the holiday season approaches.
According to some estimates, the backlog has already reached half a million and staff from other departments have now been drafted in to help cope with demand. Unions claim that staff are being forced to “paper over the cracks” by working overtime, and they may be forced to take industrial action unless urgent measures are taken to improve the situation.
Labour’s shadow immigration minister, David Hanson, said the party’s MPs have been “inundated” with complaints from constituents struggling to get their passports in time for holidays, despite applying three weeks in advance as recommended. Mr Hanson said 75 Labour MPs had reported more than 370 complaints, the majority concerning the office in Durham, which processes passport applications for children and people who have changed their names.
A spokesman for the Public and Commercial Services Union said staff are frustrated that they’re unable to provide the level of service that the public expects from the passport office.
The Passport Office denies the extent of the backlog, claiming 97% of straightforward renewals and child applications are being processed in the three week turnaround. It puts the “exceptional early summer demand” down to the improving economy and a rise in holiday bookings.
The guidance on turnaround times are three weeks for straightforward renewals and child passports and six weeks for new adult passports.
Parents are taking a stand against the ban on term-time holidays. Campaign group ‘Parents want a say‘ officially launched over the weekend and has already won support of 200,000 other parents.
The group is seeking judicial review of the rules, claiming that they are a breach of the human right to family life.
Last September, Education Secretary Michael Gove removed the policy which allowed schools to grant up to 10 days leave to families in “special circumstances”, also threatening parents with fines of up to £1,000 or even to be put in prison for taking their children out of school for a family holiday during term time.
One e-petition in opposition to the rules and school holiday price hikes gained well over 160,000 signatures in February and led to the topic being debated in Parliament.
The new campaign group is run by Karen Wilkinson, a mother of three from Bath in Somerset.
Its website argues that last year’s changes are unfairly criminalising hardworking families for wanting to enjoy affordable holidays together.
“The cost of a family holiday during the school holidays is an expense many working families simply can’t afford,” it says.
“Furthermore, it is not simply a matter of cost for many families; most businesses can’t allow large numbers of their staff to take leave at the same time either.
“Those hardest hit by this short sighted policy include the country’s highly valued public sector workers. Military families are restricted on when they take holidays due to work, training and overseas deployment, as are many NHS doctors and nurses for similar reasons.
“Those caring for our country’s elderly, operating national transport systems and our police force will also suffer under this policy, unable to enjoy family holiday’s when work schedules allow them to without facing fines for doing so.
“Government inference without due consideration to the families it will effect is unacceptable. The responsibility of making decisions about our children should be put back in the hands of the parent. All children who have a good attendance record should be allowed to enjoy and benefit from experiencing time abroad with their parents on an annual holiday of up to 10 day per year.”
Do you feel that the rules are unfair and unlawful? Post comments below.
Compensation for delayed or cancelled flights totalling around £240 million was failed to be claimed by passengers last year, according to passenger rights specialist refund.me.
Although the figure seems large, it’s much lower than the £355 million left unclaimed in 2012 and is due in part to improvements made by airlines to keep delays under the limits that would trigger compensation payments, plus more passengers being aware of their rights.
The no win, no fee firm helps eligible passengers fight for compensation under EU Regulation EC 261. Since 2004, passengers have been entitled to claim compensation of up to £490 for late cancellations or flights or delays of more than three hours, other than due to circumstances beyond airline’s control.
Refund.me founder and CEO Eve Buechner commended improvements made by airlines: “After nearly a decade of citing poorly justified “extraordinary circumstances” to avoid compensation payments, airlines appear to have turned the corner on both service and post-service quality,”
“Some airlines now have more aircraft on standby or move to pre-emptively smooth things over with passengers by offering vouchers, miles and accommodation more willingly.”
However, Buechner warned that all this progress could be put in jeopardy when a planned review of EC 261 by the European Parliament considers whether passengers should not be entitled to compensation of less than five, seven or 12 hours.
“This would effectively nullify the progress made in the last few years and set passenger rights back to their standards of 10 years ago,” she said.
“The airline industry has made significant progress in improving passenger rights in the last two years. Passengers are more aware of their rights and airlines have become more compliant and offer better service as a result. It would be disappointing to undo this progress. It would lead to more delays, more cancellations and more stranded passengers.”
Refund.me processed more than 10,000 compensation claims last year, totalling more than £3.3 million, and claimed a 94% success rate.
Easyjet passengers are now allowed to use personal electronic devices throughout their whole flight, including during take-off and landing.
Gadgets such as laptops, tablets and mobiles must be placed in ‘flight mode’ and mobiles cannot be used to make or receive calls or texts.
The move follows recent recommendations from the European Aviation Safety Agency, which have allowed for restrictions on the use of gadgets onboard aircraft to be relaxed.
Peter Duffy, Easyjet’s group commercial director, customer, product and marketing said: “We know that portable devices are an important part of our customers’ journey with us so we are pleased they can now use their electronic devices onboard in ‘Flight mode’ for the duration of their flight with us – we think this will be a popular change.”
Don’t you wish your travel insurance would cover real holiday-spoilers such as inedible hotel food, rude hotel staff and bad weather? If so, then you’re not alone.
According to a survey by comparison website Gocompare.com Travel Insurance, over a third of travellers wish they could buy insurance against inedible hotel food.
The website asked 1,300 travellers about the things they wish they could insure against, that aren’t covered by typical travel insurance policies. Top of the wish list is delayed departures, on flights, ferries or trains. Currently many policies do provide some cover for delayed departures, but only to cover additional costs of being stuck in the airport for hours, not to compensate for lost holiday time.
Caroline Lloyd from Gocompare.com Travel Insurance said: “For many people, their holiday is not only a chance to relax away from the everyday pressures of life, it’s a big financial commitment they have spent months, if not years, saving for. So it’s not surprising that they want the perfect getaway with no delays, top-notch food and accommodation – not an encounter with Basil Fawlty.
“While our survey takes a light-hearted look at the holiday-horrors people wish they could insure against, it gives us the opportunity to highlight the importance of travel insurance in protecting holidaymakers against the unexpected – from freak weather, illness or injury, or theft or loss of baggage.”
Results of the survey:
Chancellor George Osborne announced a reduction in air passenger duty (APD) on some long-haul flights in yesterday’s Budget.
In his Budget Report to the House of Commons, he said that he will reform APD to tax all long-haul flights at the same rate as those to the United States.
This is good news for the Caribbean, as passengers have had to pay the higher rate of APD to travel there than those that have gone to Hawaii, which is further away, but on a lesser APD band.
Osborne said: “I want to reform the crazy system whereby you pay less to travel to Hawaii than to fly to China or India.
“It hits exports, puts off tourists and creates a great sense of injustice in our Caribbean and southeast Asian communities in the UK.
“From next year, all long-haul flights will carry the same, lower Band B tax rate that you now pay to fly to the United States.”
The changes will mean that a family of four flying economy class to the Caribbean will save at least £64, and passengers flying economy to Australia will save around £27, and £108 in premium cabins.
Although hailed as a victory for the tourism industry, he also made clear that this was to help British businesses strengthen links to high growth business markets abroad and to make the UK an attractive option for business visitors as well as tourists.
The changes will be put in place on 1st April next year.
Pre-ticked boxes for insurance add-ons when purchasing services like a holiday could be banned by the Financial Conduct Authority.
The FCA claims the £1bn insurance add-on market is overcharging customers for products they may not need or use. An investigation in July 2013 by the FCA found poor competition at point of sale and low levels of claims. There was also a lack of information which prevented customers from making informed choices regarding the products.
25% of customers who bought insurance as an add-on were not aware that they could buy it separately elsewhere. 38% said they had not planned to buy the add-on before the purchase. 69% of those who bought it could not accurately remember how much they paid three to four months later, with 19% forgetting they had even bought it.
Christopher Woolard, director of policy, risk and research at the FCA, said: “There’s a clear case for us to intervene. Competition in this market is not working well and many consumers are simply not getting value for money.
“Firms must start putting consumers first and stop seeing them as pound signs.”
The FCA is proposing banning pre-ticked boxes to ensure consumers actively opt in to buy, and not have to choose to opt out. It will also require companies to publish claim ratios to highlight low-value products, which it hopes will encourage better quality products for consumers.
A suspension of aviation tax during the school holidays to help make family breaks more affordable is one of the options to be discussed in today’s parliamentary debate.
The debate, chaired by the Commons Backbench Committee, centres on the issue of high holiday prices during school holidays, and the new regulations that mean parents may face a fine if they take their children on holiday in term time.
A survey by the Telegraph found that package holidays are typically 30-40 per cent more expensive during school holidays, and scrapping Air Passenger Duty (APD) would save a family of four between £52 and £376 on an overseas holiday, depending on how far they travel.
Other suggestions have been to stagger school holiday times, and to regulate holiday prices during these peak times.