The COVID 19 Pandemic has caused mass disruption in the travel industry, and many travellers have been left lost, dizzy and confused at the rapidly changing situation. Here are the most common questions and answers about your consumer rights, how to deal with the coronavirus pandemic disruption to your travels and what to do next.
Now that the UK Foreign Commonwealth Office has put out an exceptional travel warning against all travel to every country, and many other countries have followed suit by cancelling visas and closing down borders, travellers have been scrambling to get home before their own countries shut down all travel. This has left a lot of people with a lot of questions which is why I have put together this Q&A off the most common questions travellers have about travelling during the Coronavirus epidemic.
What does this travel ban mean exactly?
Contrary to popular media misconception it does not mean that the COVID 19 Pandemic is getting out of control, quite the contrary in fact. New cases are declining in both China and south Korea and many countries are still relatively low risk to travel to from a health perspective. The UK travel warning serves two purposes, to try and slow down the spread of new cases and more specifically to protect travellers from the unpredictable nature of the situation as ‘any country or area may restrict travel without any notice’.
Have all flights stopped?
No. Most airlines are running on a heavily reduced capacity and many planes have been grounds, but there are still some limited routes flying, mostly to fly people home.
What do I do if I am due to travel soon?
Since most flights are being grounded and the government has released an all but essential travel warning everywhere, the only realistic option is to postpone or cancel your plans for now.
Can I get a refund on my ticket or holiday?
Yes, you can get a full cash refund for all flights or holidays. Many are offering vouchers and it is up to you if you want to accept these, but you are under no obligation to and can insist on cash repayment in full.
What if airlines cancel my flight while I am at the airport or at short notice?
If your flight departed from the EU under any airline, flies into the EU from anywhere and is operated by an EU airline, or flies internally within the EU, then under EU law you have two choices.
You can choose to get a full refund, at which time the airlines responsibility to you ends. This is best if you have not yet left home to travel.
Alternatively if you are still transiting or trying to get home, then you can choose another flight. The airline still has a duty of care to you and you still have a lot of passenger rights. So the airline owes you food and accommodation if needed, transport to and from that accommodation and transport on the next available flight to your destination, and they MUST use a rival carrier if one is not available. This is EU regulation 261//2004, and must be given upfront, not reimbursed at a later date.
Am I entitled to compensation for cancelled flights?
Unfortunately no, as the EU has ruled this pandemic an extraordinary circumstance.
My flights have been cancelled and are not from or within the EU.
Unfortunately in most cases this will completely depend on your airlines specific policy. Most should refund you completely but the process depends on internal policy. Unfortunately the rest of the world does not have the same protections as the EU or UK.
What if my flight or holiday is still running despite the travel warning and refuse to give me a refund?
Unfortunately this is still classed as a disinclination to fly, the airlines are under no obligation to refund you as they are still running, but you can claim from your insurance IF your policy was booked before the travel warning was put in place.
What do I do if I need to arrange transport home quickly?
If you are abroad and have to buy new flights to get home during the lockdown, unfortunately it is a case of spend now and try and claim it back later.
What if I am trying to get home but the airline has cancelled flights and refuse to book another flight?
Your airline has a duty to rebook you on a rescue flight. In the case of EU airlines this is covered under EU regulation 261/2004, but airlines do not always follow the law and something needs to be done to punish those who openly flout it, but that is for a later date.
If you have travel insurance, that should cover you for a new flight and emergency accommodation. It depends on your specific policy whether you will have to pay for this upfront and claim back later or not.
Is travel insurance still valid if I choose to travel despite the travel warning?
If you bought the policy before the travel warning and are currently travelling trying to get home, then yes. If you choose to start travelling despite the warning, then no.
What about future travel plans for during or after the summer? Should I cancel and can I get a refund?
At the moment no one knows how long this will last. It may well be that everything returns to normal in a couple of months and the restrictions are dropped. Cancellations and refunds are only honoured during the times that the restrictions are in place, so if you are due to travel in a few days then you will be covered, if you are due to travel in August or later most likely you will face a cancellation fee as the airline or agent will assume that things will return to normal that far ahead.
Some airlines and agents are being more flexible during this time however, so it may be worth contacting them.
Can I claim back Air Passenger Duty from the UK?
Yes. If you decide to cancel your flight and can’t get a full refund you can at least claim back the Air Passenger Duty. This is around £13 GBP for short haul flights and £79 for long haul.
What about claiming back on my credit card?
If a flight or holiday is cancelled for reasons outside of your control and you are having trouble claiming from the airline, your credit card can refund the money for you and claim it back from the airline directly as you did not get what you paid for.
Is there a risk of catching COVID 19 when travelling?
Like any disease or virus there is always a risk. In the majority of countries the risk is still low, with the obvious exceptions of at risk outbreak areas. The personal risk to you can be lowered significantly with strong personal hygiene measures and common sense social distancing.
Is there a risk of catching COVID 19 on a plane?
The risk of catching COVID 19 on a plane is low due to the way the air is filtered and circulated. However aeroplanes are not always cleaned thoroughly so there is a chance the virus may be on surfaces you touch. Wipe down surfaces such as your screen and tray table with an antiseptic wipe, wash your hands frequently and try not to touch your face.
Do I need to wear a facemask when travelling?
No. Surgical masks are clinical PPE, designed for clinical staff during specific clinical tasks. They work very well in those specific circumstances when used correctly but are not recommended by medical professionals, the WHO, the CDC or Public Health England for mass public use. In fact because people don’t use them properly they may end up actually harbouring more germs and doing more harm than good.
The only people who should be wearing surgical masks are clinical staff, or civilians who are attending to those who are sick. In some cases those people displaying mild symptoms can wear them too to avoid spreading germs but they should be self isolating and not travelling anyway.
Should I self isolate after travelling?
Yes, after travelling from anywhere at all, even if the country you have come from is relatively low risk, then you should self isolate for 14 days which is how long the incubation period of COVID 19 is.
I hope this answers all of your questions for travelling during the COVID 19 Epidemic. If you have any more, any at all, please ask them in the comments below.
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