No Iceland, we said cash...
Unless you've just come back from a stay on Mars, it won't have escaped your notice that air traffic in large parts of Western Europe has ground to a halt because of large quantities of ash being spewed out by a volcano called Eyjafjallajokull (yes, that's it's name) in Iceland.
Volcanic ash is extremely dangerous once it gets into contact with aircraft engines. In 1982 a British Airways plane had a lucky escape on a flight from London to Auckland when flying over Mount Galunggung in Indonesia. Ash got into its engines and all four failed. On the free fall that followed, the crew was able to get one of the engines going again because the air flow had dislodged some of the ash and some very frightened passengers made it to Jakarta. This is why northern European airspace has come to a halt - its dangerous.
What should I do now then?
The first port of call if your flight is cancelled or delayed is your airline. They have to offer alternative flights or refunds if you can't fly. Watch the situation very closely however as it is changing almost by the hour.
You probably won't be entitled to compensation as although European law says you are eligible under "exceptional circumstances" the airlines will quite reasonably argue that these circumstances couldn't exactly have been prevented or anticipated.
This rare situation comes under what is called an Act of God. Insurance companies have trouble sometimes reacting in a standardised way to these things and this is no exception.
World First Travel insurance will be paying out
When the story was starting to break yesterday, World First's Managing Partner Martin Rothwell, was at a meeting of the association of Travel Insurance Intermediaries http://www.atii.co.uk/ and that they were in immediate contact with the underwriters, http://www.ptic.gi/ to clarify the situation.
World First have said that if you are delayed for over 12 hours because your flight has been cancelled due to this problem, you can claim Travel Delay. You can then claim Abandonment if you are delayed for more than 24 hours in any alternative travel arrangements offered to you.
You will need to prove that your flight was cancelled for that length of time when claiming as flights will start to resume when the airspace ban is lifted. We would not expect people to go to the airport where flights cancelled or the airport is closed. Cutting through the technical jargon, you're covered.
And so are some, but not all, of the others
RBS have said the passengers that bought insurance through Direct Line, Churchill, NatWest and RBS will be able to make a claim for accommodation that cannot be cancelled or used as long as they have written evidence to support it.
Saga have also said it will honour claims subject to customers getting a letter from their airline to say that their flight was cancelled to to the weather.
Aviva however have said that they will not be accepting any claims. A rather terse statement says "Cancellation or abandonment of your holiday covers specific events only, such as injury, illness, death of the person insured or their travelling companion/a relative, redundancy or damage to your home by fire, flood or storm. There is therefore no cover for cancellation as a result of this incident." So that's that then.
What if I haven't got insurance?
It goes without saying that it's too late now. You can't buy insurance against a problem that you already know exists. To put it quite bluntly, you'll know better next time. This just shows the point of buying insurance. It doesn't cost very much, especially if you go away a few times a year and you get an annual policy and it could have you a pretty packet.