Coronavirus: What are your travel rights?

Coronavirus: What are your travel rights?

  • 16 March 2020 BBC news 

Airlines have responded to the coronavirus outbreak with mass cancellations of flights as fewer people choose, or are able, to travel abroad.

With new cases being diagnosed around the world every day, how could the outbreak affect your travel plans?

What are my travel rights?

In general, insurers and airlines take their cue from official UK foreign travel advice.

If you go against it, you risk invalidating your insurance policy.

So, if you visit China or Italy, for example, or any other country the FCO is warning against visiting, you risk invalidating your insurance.

If the advice is against "all but essential travel" and your trip is essential, some insurers will still maintain cover.

Your rights can also depend on your choice of airline and the small print of your insurance policy - so do read it carefully.

Image copyright Getty Images

Which countries should be avoided?

The FCO is constantly updating its advice and is ruling out all but essential travel to a host of countries including mainland China, the USA, Italy, Spain and many more. You can check each destination here.

This has resulted in mass cancellations of flights. If your flight is cancelled, the airline should offer a refund.

Airlines also have a duty of care to get passengers home if a return flight is cancelled, unless the passenger has accepted a refund for that return trip.

As well as UK government advice, you may not be able to travel to some countries because of their own restrictions. For example, Argentina, Peru, Paraguay and Venezuela are currently suspending all flights from European countries.

What happens if I decide to cancel my trip?

If the government has not issued a warning about the country you are booked to visit, you cannot expect financial compensation if you decide to cancel.

"In general, cancellation or travel disruption cover will activate when the FCO advises against all travel or all but essential travel to an area," says Su Crown, from the Association of British Insurers (ABI).

"Travel insurance is not designed to cover 'disinclination to travel' where the FCO advice has not changed to advise against travel."

Can I rebook instead?

While insurers may not cover cancellations, many airlines, including British Airways, EasyJet and Virgin Atlantic, are currently letting passengers rebook flights for free.

Many hotels in areas under lockdown are offering refunds or the option to rebook. But if the hotel and its location are open, and the booking is non-refundable, travellers may lose out.

Insurers are telling customers they should ask their holiday provider or airline for refunds or rebookings first. Even when travel tickets are refunded, there can be other costs, such as hotel rooms and car hire, which travel insurance might cover.

"People should keep all their travel invoices and receipts to help the claims process go smoothly," says Laura Dawson, of the ABI.

You might find insurers take a different view on when you can put in a claim. Some will look at it within 28 days of your planned departure. Others ask the traveller to wait until 48 hours before, just in case the FCO advice changes.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Some airlines are allowing passengers to rebook certain flights

Have insurance companies changed cover?

Some insurance companies have stopped selling new policies, or altered cover, in the wake of the outbreak.

The key is "disruption cover" which should pay out for costs such as unused hotel bookings or car hire. Many policies do not have this as standard.

Meanwhile, Axa, Aviva and InsureAndGo have limited or changed cover for claims relating to the disease. This may mean that a trip booked now may not cover you for disruption, even if you have a valid annual travel insurance policy.

Admiral, Aviva, LV, Churchill, More Than, and Direct Line have suspended travel insurance sales completely for the moment. The Post Office has also suspended selling travel insurance to new customers.

The Association of British Insurers said that travel insurance is for unforeseen circumstances and coronavirus no longer met that criteria.

What about places that aren't affected?

Many people will have booked holidays to places that have only had a few cases of coronavirus so far.

However, personal finance expert Martin Lewis advises people to still get insurance as the situation could change rapidly.

Mr Lewis says if there was a major outbreak of coronavirus and the FCO changed its advice, you should be covered if you already had eligible insurance. However, if you tried to take it after the travel advice changed, you would not be successful.

Will my insurance cover me if I miss my flight home because of quarantine?

It very much depends on the type of holiday you booked and the type of travel insurance you have, according to the ABI.

Most insurers advise customers to check their policies carefully to see what kind of coverage they get.

A policy's travel delay coverage should outline how much can be reimbursed for additional expenses - such as nights in hotels or meals - if you cannot leave on your scheduled day, according to consumer organisation Which?.


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