Coronavirus and travel – the complete guide.

4 min read
March 13, 2020

Resolver’s guide to travel, the coronavirus and other dangers

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has just formally advised against all non-essential travel abroad. We’ll keep you updated as this story develops. 

Countless people have been in touch over the last day about flights, cancelations and future holiday bookings. While there are rules in place that cover many situations where flights are cancelled, it’s worthwhile bearing in mind that nothing on this scale has happened in recent memory.

Here’s our guide to the current situation. Like any fast-moving story, the key thing to remember is keep an eye on the news and the updates on Government websites.

My flight has just been cancelled

If you’re due to fly soon and the airline has cancelled your flight, then you should get a full refund or occasionally the option to rebook or move the flight to a future date.

If you’re abroad then things are obviously a lot more serious. The airline does have a responsibility to get you back home. This can be on an ‘emergency’ flight through your airline or through another airline if this isn’t possible. In some circumstances this might involve another way of traveling (boat, train, coach, etc). Be wary of accepting a refund before flying though. If you do this, you may be left to make your own arrangements to get home.

It’s worthwhile bearing in mind that this is a little different to the delay/cancellation compensation. That applies if the flight is cancelled because of something the airline could have foreseen. The coronavirus wouldn’t count in this instance. So the rules hear are about getting the money you paid for a flight refunded and getting home.

My future flight has been/might be cancelled

The leading airlines are announcing dire warnings about huge numbers of flight cancellations. We’re going to have to adapt with the situation on this one. It’s possible that you may be able to move your flight to a future date rather than have a refund but it’s to early to predict what the travel industry landscape will be like in, say, six months.

I can’t get hold of the airline/holiday firm

Unfortunately, the answer here is to persist. We’re calling for greater clarity on the situation for travellers on airline and holiday firm websites. The priority is people who need repatriating but clear advice is needed for everyone affected. Keep calling/messaging the firm for the time being.

I’ve booked a holiday but I want to cancel

Even if you’re not traveling in the next few weeks, this will become and issue when you do come to take a holiday, depending on how the virus spreads.

You have a few main options to look at:

  • Your travel insurance policy
  • Your holiday booking company
  • Your airline
  • Your hotel

Travel insurance

Travel insurance companies do have clauses relating to not being able to travel due to pandemics and other events where there’s a significant risk. However, the vast majority tend to rely on the advice on the Foreign Office website:

If the FCO advises against ‘all but essential travel’ to where you’re going, you should be able to claim a full refund, though your insurer may want you to explore the refund options through the holiday company and airline too.

But this is where things get tricky. If there are outbreaks or places have been ‘locked down’ unless the FCO specifically advises against travel, you may not be able to claim (though you should always try!) This includes advice for returning travellers. So if you’ve been asked to ‘self-isolate’ after a holiday, this doesn’t count as being told not to travel to the country or destination.

So does that mean I’ll lose my cash?

Not necessarily. Travel insurance includes clauses for cancelation. So if your doctor says you can’t travel due to illness, for example, you can usually claim. Now is the time to dig out the policy and look through it though to see what you’re covered for. Speak to the insurer too so you can find out your options.

What else can I do?

Be flexible. Your rights to cancel and get refunds from holiday companies, travel agents and airlines all vary so check ‘em out now before the holiday is upon you. If you don’t want to go and the terms aren’t in you favour, why not come up with an alternative solution?

You may be able to transfer your flight to another destination or date further in the future, so you don’t lose your money completely if you decide not to travel. There will usually be a fee for this, however. Some airlines are already allowing people to rebook for a later date, so don’t hesitate, contact them and find out what you’re entitled to do.

Ask the holiday company what their plans are if something does occur closer to the time. Do they have alternative hotels or accommodation in other areas, for example?

The big gamble

A number of people who I’ve spoken to have told me that they’ve cancelled their holidays outright and lost all their cash. Don’t do this unless you have to. As long as the firm has your money, you have its attention. So ask them what your options are and get a written response.

Remember there’s a big difference between your holiday being cancelled (you’ll generally get a refund) and choosing to cancel (you may not if there’s no official advice that you can’t travel). So think carefully about what you’re willing to do and what you aren’t – then see what you can negotiate.

 Resolver can help you with any travel complaint you might have – and it’s totally free. 

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