Ask Simon Calder: travel risk management - Live coverage - The Independent

Ask Simon Calder: travel risk management

Ask our Travel Editor at Large Simon Calder about travel hazards and how to avoid them from 1200 BST. Post your questions using the 'Make A Comment' button below or tweet them with the hashtag #AskCalder. This event is now closed, but you can read it as it unfolded below.

  • This live Q&A will start in five minutes' time.
  • I'm going on a cruise in August and it's the first time I'll be stepping on a boat since watching Titanic in the nineties! Is it now a legal requirement to have enough lifeboats for passengers aboard? Do first class passengers still get priority for places on the lifeboats?
  • As with so many aspects of travel safety, it takes a disaster - sometimes of Titanic proportions - to reduce some of the risks of transportation. The Safety Of Life At Sea convention means, among other things, that all passenger ships should have more than enough means of escape for the people on board. This is certainly the case for most of the vessels that you and I are likely to sail on, but sadly standards in parts of the developing world are not so high - as recurring tragedies show.
  • I'm thinking of travelling to South America alone and, as a female in her mid Twenties, I've been advised by several friends to steer clear of certain areas. Are there any particular places you'd advise me to careful when alone?
  • RiskyTraveller, South America is arguably the most rewarding continent on the planet in which to travel, with everything from ancient cultures to 21st-century cities, not to mention monumental mountains and spectacular beaches. I've been travelling there for the past 30 years, and the only problems I have encountered are pickpocketing/bagsnatching. As long as you stay in well lit and populated parts of big cities after dark, and always take local advice, you have a very good chance of staying safe. While there are parts of Mexico I would definitely avoid right now, I cannot think of anywhere in South America, with the exception of the Darien area of Colombia, that I would regard as off limits. As witb life in general, you cannot completely eliminate risk - just do what you can to minimise it.
  • I have been hit twice by ash cloud problems. Which airlines will refund my flight if they are delayed by an ash cloud?
  • Neil, to lose one flight to an ash cloud is unfortunate - to lose two, doubly so. But the rules are clear, at least if you are booked on a European airline. All the risk exposure is taken by the airline. If your flight is cancelled or heavily delayed, and you choose not to travel, then you are legally entitled to a refund within a week (in practice, it could be longer). If you choose to continue, the airline has to look after you until it can get you on a flight. The only scenario in which you are not covered is when you remove yourself from the vicinity of the departure airport. Example: I was in Norway when the first ash cloud came down. When my flight from Oslo was cancelled, I opted to find a container ship home. The airline's sole obligation was to refund the fare. Travel insurers may offer cover for other expenses - but not if, like me, you have opted for a very cheap no-frills policy designed to be a backstop for medical emergencies only.
  • Are there any budget airlines that are likely to go bust this summer?
  • Ha - if you, me or anyone else starts speculating on this subject, it could soon become a self-fulfilling prophecy as travellers switch away from the "at risk" airline. So let me turn the question around. The vast majority of us are likely to be travelling on Ryanair, easyJet, Monarch, Jet2, Bmibaby or Flybe, all of which have formidable financial back-up in various forms. There are no candidates along the lines of Zoom or EUjet that I can see. There will undoubtedly be financial failures in travel this summer, but they are likely to be among tour operators specialising in the price-driven end of the market.
  • If like me you're too mean to fork out for travel insurance and a budget airline loses your luggage are they under any obligation to compensate you for the loss?
  • First, very few cases of "lost" luggage involve permanent deprivation. Usually the bag will catch you up eventually, due to sophisticated networks designed to reunite you with your possessions. The rare cases when the baggage fails to appear after a few weeks are usually due to the external tags being torn off, and there being no evidence inside the bag about who it belongs to - so always stick a label inside as well as outside. If it does go missing permanently, then the airline is bound by the provisions of the Montreal Convention, with compensation of up to £1,000 or so. But far better to avoid your bags going missing - ideally take everything as hand luggage. If this isn't feasible, then go for direct rather than connecting flights every time: Paris, Amsterdam and Heathrow are places where bags go astray fairly frequently.
  • I have booked a cruise break for my honeymoon which includes a stop-off in Tunisia for May next year. What are the risks of going and would I be within my rights to ask to change the stop to somewhere else?
  • Congratulations on your impending marriage. There's more good news: everything I have seen, read and researched about Tunisia indicates there is no significant risk to tourists from the political unrest that began in January, nor from "overspill" from the turmoil in neighbouring Libya. Therefore your call in Tunis should prove a happy and safe day. But a couple of pieces of less good news: the background threat of terrorism against tourists, which has prevailed for some years, continues. And while there are many, many cases where cruise lines have changed ports of call for various reasons, passenger pressure is not one of them. Finally, "disinclination to travel" is not legally valid grounds to cancel if you are hoping to seek a refund.
  • How do I avoid the risk of bumping into Simon Calder when I am on holiday?
  • Fly on an expensive airline, and stay in an all-inclusive resort.
  • Travelling with family to Naples in July, from where we intend to drive around the Amalfi Coast, via Pompeii, Herculaneum etc. Have heard some horror stories about driving in that part of Italy...anything I should be aware of?
  • "Have heard some horror stories about driving in that part of Italy" ... Davidtc56, only THAT part of Italy? It sounds as though you, like me, do not have the crucial Italian driving gene. That means anywhere from Milan to Messina, we will be hopelessly exposed on the roads. I cannot properly predict other motorists' behaviour, neither do I know where I can park without having the car impounded or stolen or both. What I do know is that Italy has excellent public transport, and in particular the Circumvesuviana rail link from Naples to Sorrento. From here, you can take buses along the spectacular Amalfi coast. Cheap, cheerful and far safe. The one problem is the occasional blockade - of road and rail - by protesting dockers.
  • Simon - what do you make of Tui's decision to use the First Choice brand for 'All inclusive' holidays only? Are other operators going to follow suit? I recently travelled to the Canaries and local businesses were being put out of business because holidaymakers were not eating out etc
  • Not quite sure if this is within the bounds of "travel risk management", except that: if you take an all inclusive, you are at serious risk of missing out on much that the destination has to offer, and the local people are definitely at risk of losing out financially. If you're considering all inclusive, remember this: the tour operator is making money not just from your flight and hotel, but also from everything you eat and drink.
  • Easyjet cancelled my flight and offered no alternative or refund because it was booked by expedia. Would you recommend not using travel companies in case of cancelations?
  • There are sound reasons to book a package through an intermediary, because you earn the extensive protection of the Package Travel Regulations. You can also save a fortune on some long-haul flights if you book an "IT" fare, including hotel accommodation, through an agency. If you intend to take a complex multi-stop trip, expert travel agents are invaluable. But for simple point-to-point trips, I believe they often add an extra layer of cost and complication, and if anything goes wrong life can get tediously tricky.
  • I'm going to St Petersburg in Russia - is there anything I should be aware of? Is it generally safe?
  • "In St Petersburg there have been reports of street crime where tourists have been specifically targeted," warns the Foreign Office. "These crimes are carried out by well-organised gangs. Be aware of pickpockets in the main tourist areas and around the main railway concourses." That's the most likely risk - and cruise-ship passengers are, in my experience, among the preferred targets. Be aware also of "bogus police officers harassing and robbing tourists". But then enjoy this miraculously beautiful city, the finest in all of Russia. I've checked.
  • Hi Simon, I'm heading to Turkey next month and have heard varying opinions regarding which currency to take - could you suggest whether it's best to take euro's or lira? Thanks
  • Take sterling and change it there. All other options will cost you more. And to get this on to a risk management footing, be circumspect about road travel; Turkey's death toll is far worse than Britain's. If you're travelling long distances, then fly, go by train or travel on a reputable bus line. And bear in mind the prevailing threat of terrorism against Western targets. Apart from all that, the chances are you will have a splendid trip to a warm and friendly nation.
  • Which UK airport do you rate the highest?
  • In terms of safety, all of them. In terms of least stress, then any of the smaller airports. Among the bigger airports, Manchester and Gatwick do pretty well.
  • Is there a safe destination near the 'Arab Spring' countries that would be cheaper than normal, due to people avoiding it unfairly. Somewhere with a lot of sightseeing opportunities (been to Egypt) would be ideal.
  • Good final question, John. Tunisia is the obvious choice. It's vastly under-visited this summer because of events at the start of the "Arab Spring". There are great deals around; and with everything from classical ruins at Carthage to the holy city of Kairouan and explorations of the Sahara you'll have more than enough to see. The only additional advice I can offer: you might want to wait until the marvellous Bardo museum re-opens later this summer, for one of the finest collections in North Africa.
  • That's all, folks: thanks for some excellent questions, and remember that you can email travel@independent.co.uk any time. Stay safe and travel well. Simon
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