FAQ About Travel During The COVID 19 Outbreak.

Airport arrivals international travel

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.

Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.

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Why Travel Insurance Is Essential On Your Gap Year.

Michael Huxley is a published author, professional adventurer and founder of the travel website, Bemused Backpacker. He has spent the last twenty years travelling to over 100 countries on almost every continent, slowly building Bemused Backpacker into a successful business after leaving a former career in emergency nursing and travel medicine, and continues to travel the world on numerous adventures every year.

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56 comments on “FAQ About Travel During The COVID 19 Outbreak.
  1. Al says:

    I really appreciate this and all the work you are doing to keep everyone informed. It’s great to have a reliable, trusted source of information. Thank you.

  2. Anna says:

    I’ve heard taking Ibuprofen is a dangerous for Coronavirus, whats your take on that?

    • Honestly Anna I don’t know. There have been some suggestions to that effect but at the moment there is no conclusive evidence that it is either. Most studies I have seen seem to be leaning toward that isn’t the case, but there is no harm in taking paracetamol instead if you need to.

  3. Dave says:

    Thanks for this!

  4. Neil McGregor says:

    Ive heard that there is long-term damage to the lungs if you get Coronavirus? Is this true?

    • It’s too early to say for sure Neil and a lot of the studies are still being done, but it would seem like a possibility for some patients, especially if they have pre-existing conditions such as COAD. It will probably be some time before we know for sure.

  5. Jim says:

    This is exactly why I love your blog. Love your factual way of giving the facts and cutting through the bs. There is too much fear and opinion on this topic atm.

  6. Amber says:

    I had a panic attack over this last night. I’m not prone to panic and it was my first ever anxiety attack. I need to step away from the news a bit.

    • I’m sorry to hear that Amber, how are you feeling now? Stepping away from the mass media is definitely a good idea as it never does anything other than scaremonger. This is a serious situation yes, but we are dealing with it relatively well and will get through this. Try and spend some time away from social media and the mainstream news.

  7. Ant Bridges says:

    So how long is everything going to be grounded or closed?

    • How long is a piece of string? It is not likely to be long term as studies show that isn’t the best option, but we will likely see a staged return to normality over the next few months. We are at the moment doing really well on the whole I think in flattening the curve before the surge comes, but only time will tell.

  8. Sonny Ankruumar says:

    So how long does it time to get sick?

  9. Jenny says:

    I know restaurants are shutting down but what about the deliveries they are still letting happen? What if someone who is sick has touched the food? Can I get ill like that?

  10. Imogen says:

    How likely am I to get it if I have been in contact with someone who has cold symptoms?

    • It’s hard to say really Imogen because it depends on a variety of factors, how close was the contact? Did they sneeze, cough or even breath on you? Did you hug or shake hands? How good is their infection control procedure if you touched anything around them?

  11. Shay. says:

    You are wrong. Face masks DO work. Otherwise why do hospital staff have them on?

    • Because they are clinical PPE for clinical staff in specific clinical circumstances. They work in those circumstances. That does not mean they work when the general public wear them all the time which is why no health authority recommends them for use like that.

  12. Ellen says:

    How can I tell the difference between this and a normal flu?

    • You can’t Ellen, not without a proper test, because the symptoms are so similar. That is why the current advice for anyone showing any cold or flu symptoms to self isolate for two weeks regardless and contact your local health provider if the symptoms persist for longer than a week. If you are deemed suitable for testing they will give you further instruction then.

  13. John says:

    The most essential question ever … how do we stop these damn coronavirus emails from every single company out there?

  14. Kim says:

    Is there no treatment for Coronavirus? What happens if we get it?

    • At the moment Kim no there isn’t a specific treatment for COVID19, but symptoms are treated instead, for example you will be given 02 if you are struggling to breath, painkillers if in pain, etc.

  15. Rhea says:

    What do we do if airlines who have cancelled on us are refusing to give a refund and have only offered partial vouchers, but we can’t get through to them at all?

  16. Dan says:

    Really useful, thanks.

  17. Sue says:

    This makes me sound a bit dim but I get confused as to why this has so many names? Are they all the same thing? Covid and Coronavirus?

    • It doesn’t at all Sue, it is actually a really common question and it is easy to get confused over it. Basically speaking Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that include the common cold, influenza, SARS, MERS, etc. COVID 19 is a new type of coronavirus. To be completely technical COVID 19 is the disease caused by SARS CoV 2 which is the name of the new strain of Coronavirus. Hope that helps?

  18. John says:

    So how are people tested for covid 19? Is it readily available?

    • To get technical for a moment it is tested by Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test kits, to the layman that is a swab up your nose and a sputum and blood sample. But I’m afraid that they aren’t readily available to everyone, no.

  19. Laura says:

    Can you be reinfected with coronavirus if you have it once?

  20. Simon says:

    I have heard about malarial meds being a cure for this, is that true?

    • Chloroquine and hydroxychloriquine, both antimalarial meds, are two of four meds alongside a combo of lopinavir and ritonavir and the antiviral compound remdevisir which are being tested at the moment by the WHO to combat SARS CoV 2. Results are relatively positive but there is still a long way to go yet.

  21. Sarah says:

    Is COVID air borne?

    • At the moment it seems to be similar to other coronaviruses in that it is predominantly droplet spread (ie through someone coughing or sneezing germs all over the place in simple terms), but there are studies being done at the moment where airborne may be a problem in certain health care settings but there isn’t enough evidence to say that it is airborne just yet.

  22. Jean says:

    Why is COVID 19 more dangerous than other coronaviruses?

  23. MARTIN says:

    What is the likelihood of this outbreak – or a further outbreak – having a long term impact on society after this initial lock down. How effective will this lockdown be and how long will it go on?

    • How long it will go on for I have no idea Martin, but it is clear that it cannot be long term. All the evidence suggests the negative effects far outweigh the benefits to long term lockdown. The fact is this strain of coronavirus is very likely to be with us for a very long time yet, but we will have to find away to balance out normal life with protective measures as well. When this initial period of isolation is over and travel starts to resume we will still need to be so much better with hygiene and infection control procedures than we ever have been before, contact tracing and quarantine measures will still need to be a fact of life for some time yet, but for the minority not the majority, and eventually herd immunity will play a part in suppressing this too, alongside of course hopefully having a vaccine as soon as possible.

  24. Lisa says:

    Why are the mortality rates so high in Italy and Spain? And why is it not occuring in Africa?

    • They are occurring in Africa Lisa, just not in as many cases as Europe, China or Korea, yet. There is a likelihood of a larger outbreak there too. As for Italy and Spain they have some of the largest elderly populations in Europe, which is why they are being hit harder than most, and unfortunately because the elderly have higher levels of comorbidities that is why the mortality rates are higher too.

  25. Amy says:

    What do you do if airlines are forcing you to take vouchers and not giving you the option to get a refund? I really need that money now since I’m no longer working?

  26. Lee says:

    Very useful post thank you. I can’t believe how much of an impact this has had.

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