The latest update on the coronavirus pandemic suggests that none of us will be travelling for the foreseeable future — but what do you do if you’ve already booked a getaway?
I’m an overthinker, but I didn’t think twice about booking my trip to Italy for the beginning of March. It was the middle of January, I was heavy with post-Christmas blues and longing for some time away. So when my friend Claudia suggested booking a trip to her home town of Milan, staying with her parents (read: free accommodation), I dropped £70 on the Ryanair flight within seconds.
The idea of needing to cancel because the country would be on lockdown due to a new virus spreading across the world seemed… unthinkable? Hilarious? Dystopian? Flash forward six weeks later, and it was our reality – and not a laughing matter.
We watched on as the situation in Italy escalated. Daily news articles were sent to our WhatsApp group chat as the numbers infected by coronavirus grew from 130 to 900 to 1,700 over the course of a couple of days. As British Airways and EasyJet began cancelling flights, we eagerly waited for the announcement that RyanAir would do the same, thus taking the decision out of our hands (they didn’t).
Claudia became an Italian correspondent, sharing stories of Milan’s empty streets and closed down schools from sources including her parents and best friends, to whom this was their reality. Eventually, we knew we had no choice but to take the loss and cancel. Losing £70 felt like nothing compared to the stress our presence would have been on Claudia’s family having to house a bunch of strangers, and share their already-limited resources with an extra four bodies.
Thank God we didn’t go. 24 hours after we would have landed, Milan, much like the rest of the country, went into lockdown. Our long weekend of cobbled street walking, pizza eating and espresso drinking would have turned into two weeks in quarantine.
I’ve just found out that my second holiday, skiing in Austria over the bank holiday, has now also been cancelled as the country tries to contain the virus. And I will definitely not be the only one who isn’t travelling at the moment: the EU has just banned all non-essential entry by people from countries not included in the union, and the USA added the UK and Ireland to their banned country list.
Understandably this has created some questions around what to do with your travel plans. So if you’re concerned about travelling or how to change or reschedule your trips, we’ve spoken to the experts about what you should do.
Can people from the UK still enter Europe?
President of the EU, Ursula Von der Leyen, said that “UK citizens are European citizens” as we are still in the transitional period post-Brexit, so we will be able to travel to other member states, although the UK government have warned against travel to certain European countries. The exemption also includes long-term EU residents, family members and essential healthcare workers and medical experts.
What’s going on with the USA travel ban?
The USA first announced a list of 26 banned countries last week, but the UK and Ireland were excluded. As of tomorrow (Tuesday 17 March) people from the UK will be also be unable to enter the USA. “To avoid a repeat of the situation that left travellers stuck in Italy, affected airlines should not be flying passengers out to the US ahead of the ban if they will be left stranded once the restriction comes into force,” said Rory Boland, Editor of Which? Travel.
Airlines should be offering options such as refunds, re-routing or rebooking cancelled flights and supporting passengers due to travel or already in the USA. If you’re worried about what it means for you and your flight, it’s best to contact your airline directly.
What should you do if you have a holiday booked to an area seriously affected by coronavirus?
The important thing here is whether the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) advises against travel to the area, says Helen Saxon, banking editor at MoneySavingExpert.com. It’s best to check the FCO page for the country you’re planning to travel to, but some of the government recommendations are:
• against all travel to Hubei Province, in China.
• against all but essential travel to the rest of mainland China. If you’re in China and able to leave, you should do so.
• against all travel to the cities of Daegu, Cheongdo and Gyeongsan in South Korea.
• against all but essential travel to Europe.
• against all but essential travel to other countries including the USA, South Africa and Jamaica after the countries have all announced measures restricting or banning entry to people from the UK.
If you travel to any of these areas against government recommendation, you’re unlikely to be covered by your insurer. If you booked your insurance before the FCO issued the warning, then most people will be covered for their cancellation, if they don’t receive refunds or exchanges from the airlines and hotels, according to Saxon.
What about if you’ve booked elsewhere?
Some countries are making plans that will affect your holiday, but there is no warning about travelling there. For example, on Saturday France announced the closure of many of its ski resorts, but the FCO haven’t issued any official advise against travel.
“If there’s no official warning against travel, then it’s a bit more of a grey area,” says Saxon. “A lot will depend on whether your flights and hotel are cancelled, and how good your travel insurance is.” If there’s a cancellation, you should get money back from the airline or hotel directly. But, you’d need to talk to your insurer about other losses, such as covering the cost of your hotel if your airline cancelled the flight, as it’s unlikely the hotel would refund this.
What about if I just want to cancel my flight – do I have any rights?
“Generally, no,” says Hannah Burke of Which?. “If there’s no travel advisory against your destination and you just don’t want to go, this is taken in insurer speak as “disinclination to travel” and you won’t be covered to get any money back.”
If you have a pre-existing medical condition that would put you at greater risk if you travelled to an area where there are cases of coronavirus, then insurers may consider your claim on a case-by-case basis. However, you’d probably need to go to your doctor and get a medical note.
If in doubt, check with your travel insurance provider if they’d consider it and what proof they might need, Burke explains.
Which airlines have adjusted their policy to cater for coronavirus?
Most airlines have now made a policy change, according to Burke.
Ryanair has cancelled 80% of it’s flights, Virgin Atlantic is to cut four-fifths of its flights and BA is to ground 75% of it’s fleets. Destinations affected include Italy, Spain and America. But, as always, it’s best to check with your airline.
Which? recommend that any passengers who incur additional costs as a result of being rerouted home via an indirect route should retain all receipts to have these costs reimbursed by their airline.
This story was originally published on 10 March but has been amended with the latest travel advice. Information and advice will change as the situation develops. Keep up to date with your holiday provider and insurance for full details.
Images: writer’s own