Thursday, 22 April 2010


Brian and Lorraine Howden were meant to enjoy their dream holiday in New York. But thanks to the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland, getting back home has turned into a nightmare.

Like many other people stranded in countries outside of the European Union they have had to pay out extra hotel bills with no discounts, along with medication and doctor consultations at full cost.

They have also had to use credit cards that could go over their limit at any time and know there are bills at home that may not be paid on time, so incurring penalties.

The Howdens, from Hampshire, had booked for 10 days and were due to fly back last Saturday with American Airlines. But when they tried to rebook when their flight was cancelled, the earliest trip they could only get Thursday. Many travellers have still to get flights.

Brian [pictured], who is Marketing Manager at Fareham College, is concerned at the lack of help from the government and airlines for travellers who were stranded in non-EU countries.

He said: “Many people are in severe distress with very little help. The issue for travellers is whether there is going to be any help. Most Brits aren't getting any support at all and having to rely on credit cards if they can.

“There's no single point of information, no hope of financial support or leniency from banks or credit cards etc. If airlines like banks get massive financial support, people will be angry if nothing is done to help them.”

The Brits in their hotel are spending breakfast and time in the lobby sharing tales of financial problems during their extended holiday.

“Many have had to pay out extra hotel bills at full rate and some have had to make alternative arrangements to travel paying premium fares,” he said.

“We like masses of people have had to pay out for medication and doctor consultations at full cost with mostly no call on insurance.

“Credit cards are helping people pay bills but many will max out. Travellers will fail to pay bills coming in whilst away, find credit refused if they are over limit and incur bank charges.”

The eruption of the Icelandic volcano and the resultant ash cloud that has spread across Europe has been causing travel chaos over the last week as British airspace has ground to a halt.

Airports have been deserted and British passengers like the Howdens are stranded across the world. Children can’t get back to school and adults can’t get back to work. Most of all, they just want to return home.

“We are stranded here,” Brian said. “Lots of people may not get paid as this is 'unauthorized leave' and employers are not required to pay. There will also be people on contract work who won't be paid.”

Medication has been a big problem for British travellers, who only brought what they needed from home. Now it’s costing them a fortune abroad.

Brian said: “We were both running out of medications so had to see a doctor, which was £70 each. Then Lorraine's medication cost £115 for four items and mine cost £118 for just one item. That's just over £370.

“Insurance is unlikely to cover very much of this as they and the airline say it is ‘Act of God’ so nothing covers it.”

But the situation is starting to improve as the ash clears and more planes take to the skies. Despite all of the problems the Howdens are facing in the USA, Brian still thinks highly of their holiday destination.

“Despite the uncertain situation flying home and my lack of medication that works, we are blessed with this awesome long holiday in the most fabulous New York City,” he said.

“We're trying to focus on seeing this as a gift and enjoying every moment, whilst putting the extra cost at back of our minds.

“I have been to 15 European cities and 13 in UK and nothing comes close to New York. It will be great to get home and see the people who matter to us so much, but I will still be sad to leave Manhattan.”

UPDATE: The Howdens finally arrived home at London Heathrow Airport on Friday morning.