What can I do if my flights are cancelled?

Matthew Partridge looks at the options if your flights have been cancelled following the tragic aeroplane crash in Sharm el-Sheik.

There is still no definitive answer to what caused the tragic crash of the Metrojet flight from Egypt to Russia last month. However, the growing evidence that it was a terrorist attack has led the Foreign Office to discourage all but essential travel to large swathes of Egypt. While the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh is not included on the list, airlines have pulled their flights to this area as well, and warn that they may not resume them until next summer. So what are your rights if you have booked a holiday to the region, or experience a similar situation in the future?

If you booked your holiday as a package holiday through a travel agent or tour operator, they should be your first port of call. The Civil Aviation Authority's industry code requires them to offer compensation as part of the Air Travel Organisers' Licensing (ATOL) financial protection scheme. While they may offer you an equivalent holiday as an alternative, you don't have to take this and can demand a refund. Virtually all operators are signed up to the scheme and should give you an ATOL certificate with your booking. Companies are legally required to provide one, so if they don't it's a major red flag that something is not right.

If you've booked your flights and accommodation as a "flight-plus"deal where you book the flight and the hotel through the same provider but not as a package holiday there may be a separate contract for each part of the booking and different terms will apply. If the flight has to be cancelled, you will be entitled to a refund for the flight from the airline, but not necessarily for the other parts of the booking. Similarly, a flight-only deal through an ATOL agent should also be covered. If you're not sure what you have, check your ATOL certificate: it should say whether your booking is a package, flight-plus or flight-only.

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If you've booked your flights and accommodation directly, you will have to contact the airlines and hotels involved. Airlines are not covered if you just booked a flight directly with them, but a flight-and-hotel deal booked through the airline may fall under the flight-plus scheme as long as the carrier is signed up to the ATOL scheme. Hotels are under no obligation to give you a refund because their responsibility is to provide accommodation, not to make sure that you can reach it. Check the terms and conditions of the booking to see what rights of cancellation you have, if any.

As you can see, this can get complicated and the typical do-it-yourself holidaymaker will have relatively limited coverage. So it's worth buying a good travel insurance policy that covers disruption to flights or is triggered by government travel warnings in order to provide yourself with more protection.

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

Follow Matthew on Twitter: @DrMatthewPartri