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Understanding Passenger Rights and Airline Obligations Following a Volcanic Eruption: Insights into Mount Etna’s Impact on Flight Disruptions

On May 21, 2023, the eruption of Italy’s renowned Mount Etna has caused significant disruptions to air travel, leaving passengers wondering about their entitlements and the obligations of airlines amidst such volcanic disturbances. This essay delves into the topic of passenger rights, airline responsibilities, and compensation considerations, shedding light on the aftermath of Mount Etna’s volcanic activity and its implications for affected travelers.

Mount Etna’s Eruption and Flight Disruptions

Mount Etna, Europe’s highest and most active volcano, unleashed its fury, casting a blanket of ash over the city of Catania. Consequently, flights at Catania airport were suspended, leading to extensive delays and diversions to nearby Comiso. Airlines like easyJet and Ryanair have been directly impacted by this natural disaster.

Flight Cancellations and Refunds

Travellers who have faced flight cancellations due to volcanic eruptions may encounter difficulties when seeking refunds or compensation from their respective airlines. The eruption at Mount Etna falls beyond the control of airlines, and thus it is unlikely that passengers would be entitled to compensation for resulting delays and cancellations. The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) clarifies that volcanic disruptions are considered exceptional circumstances, despite comprehensive monitoring of volcanic activity. However, airlines have an obligation to assist and support passengers when their flights are delayed or canceled.

Airline Obligations and Assistance

Although compensation may be challenging to claim in such situations, airlines still bear a “duty of care” towards their passengers and are required to provide care and assistance when flights are disrupted due to volcanic events. This obligation encompasses provisions such as accommodation, food, and travel expenses. Notably, legal precedents exist where airlines have been compelled to compensate passengers for expenses incurred during volcanic disruptions.

CAA Guidelines and Passenger Entitlements

According to the CAA, UK law stipulates that airlines must offer care and assistance to passengers in the event of significant flight delays. These delays are categorized based on distance and duration. For long-haul flights exceeding 3,500 kilometers, airlines are obligated to provide compensation if delays extend beyond four hours. This compensation includes reasonable provisions for food and drink, means of communication, accommodation (if rerouting occurs the following day), and transportation to and from the accommodation or the passenger’s residence.

Mitigating Disruptions and Proactive Communication

The CAA emphasizes that airlines must make diligent efforts to minimize overall disruptions faced by passengers affected by volcanic eruptions. This involves proactive communication to provide passengers with timely updates and information regarding their rights. Passengers may experience challenges in reaching their intended destinations promptly due to the exceptional circumstances posed by volcanic activity. Nonetheless, airlines are expected to prioritize passenger welfare and provide necessary support during such trying times.

Lessons from Past Eruptions

The eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in 2010 affected millions of passengers, resulting in airspace closures and restrictions across multiple countries for an extended period. Awareness of passenger rights during unforeseen events is crucial. Understanding one’s entitlements can help travelers navigate disruptions more effectively and assert their rights when necessary.


In the aftermath of Mount Etna’s volcanic eruption, passengers grappling with flight disruptions need to be aware of their rights and the obligations imposed on airlines. While compensation may be challenging to obtain in cases of volcanic disturbances, airlines remain responsible for providing care and assistance to affected passengers. By understanding their entitlements and staying informed about guidelines set forth by aviation authorities, travelers can navigate volcanic disruptions with greater confidence, ensuring their needs are addressed during these exceptional circumstances.
image sources: @victorienjoy/Instagram/Reuters,