What your rights are if your travels are cancelled due to coronavirus

Europe has now become the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic, with thousands of new cases reported each day.

Every day, more and more countries are rushing to close borders and introduce new travel restrictions in a bid to stop the spread of Covid-19.

The implications are huge – not just for those with holidays and upcoming travel booked, but also for those who are already abroad and may find themselves stranded without notice.

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The situation is developing constantly but here’s what we know so far:

My flights have been cancelled, what can I do?

If your flight has been cancelled, your airline should be in touch via email or text with what to do next.

If not and you’re already abroad, check your airline’s website first – right now, call centres will be flooded with worried customers trying to find out what’s happening. If the cancellation is due to coronavirus, your airline will more than likely have posted a statement on what will happen next.

In theory, under European air passengers’ rights rules, the cancelling carrier is required to find and pay for alternative transport for you and, in some instances, offer additional support such as food and accommodation. In reality, due to the overwhelming number of passengers affected, it may be that you will receive a refund but have to get back home yourself.

Where airlines have suspended entire routes due to FCO warnings, there should be repatriation flights available for affected customers – check with your airline before you book your own travel. Check with your airline even if your trip isn’t due to end for some time – if there is an FCO warning in place, you may not be able to get a flight home further down the line and may have to find an alternative mode of transport.

If you haven’t travelled yet, you should be able to get a full refund or rebook for another time. Check with your airline as to what their policy is. Be aware, though, some airlines will only let you rebook once.

What if I’m travelling by Eurostar, Eurotunnel or ferry?

At the moment, France has not closed its borders and the FCO has not advised against going there.

This means that for now, Eurostar and Eurotunnel services are still running – but bear in mind this could change without notice.

Eurostar has been operating on a revised schedule, with lower capacity, for some time and it’s continuing to do so. Affected passengers are usually contacted via email, and those who want to rebook can do so.

Eurotunnel Le Shuttle says its services are unaffected. And as long as the borders between France and the UK are open, it will continue to operate.

You can get a full refund on Flexiplus tickets if you no longer want to travel, or the company is offering to rebook affected customers.

Brittany Ferries have cancelled most of their services between the UK and Spain. The only service still running is between Portsmouth and Bilbao at the moment – but this may soon change after the FCO updated its advice to avoid non-essential travel to Spain. Most services between the UK and France are still running, but some routes are operating on an amended schedule.

P&O Ferries and DFDS are both running as normal for the time being. Again, there may be amendments to service if there is updated FCO advice.

If you booked a package holiday, it should be protected by ABTA or ATOL and therefore you should receive a full refund or you can choose to rebook for another time.

If your transport and accommodation were booked separately, you will need to contact the relevant providers directly. Many have amended their cancellation policies in light of coronavirus, allowing you to rebook for another time.

What do I do if I have a holiday booked for the summer?

The best thing you can do right now is wait and see, especially if you have to pay a fee or lose your deposit if you cancel now.

China, where the virus originated, has already seen a massive fall in cases – at the time of writing, it’s had just 18 new cases on 14 March according to the World Health Organisation.

There is no firm timescale of when the pandemic will blow over in Europe and the rest of the world, but you may well be able to travel by the summer.

Can I get any compensation if my travels are affected?

Unfortunately, if it’s due to coronavirus, it’s unlikely.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said: “Where the Government is advising against travel to a destination we consider that this would be viewed as an ‘extraordinary circumstance’ and compensation would not be payable.

“Cancellations related to coronavirus in other circumstances (e.g. where there is no advice against travel) would need to be considered on their merits and facts. 

“However, decisions by authorities to close airspace, restrict airline operations or place restrictions on passengers are likely to be an extraordinary circumstances. 

“Cancellations due to the economic and environmental consequences of operating flights with only a few passengers on-board may also be considered to be an extraordinary circumstance.”

Will my travel insurance still cover me?

Double check with your provider before you travel.

A number of travel insurers have already stopped selling new policies while some have stated that existing policies will not cover travel disruption due to coronavirus as it’s considered a known risk.

If you’ve already suffered travel disruption due to coronavirus, it’s still worth trying your policy provider for compensation.

Should I be travelling at all?

Airlines, cruise companies and holiday firms have slashed their prices due to coronavirus, which means there are some tempting bargains.

There are obvious risks to travelling right now, and not just the possibility of contracting coronavirus.

Countries could be closing their borders without warning, which means you could be left stranded, with no way to get home. And even if you can get home, you might end up paying a hefty fee to do it, with no promise that any travel insurance will cover you.

The FCO hasn’t put a blanket ban on travel, but it may be prudent to plan a staycation for the next couple of months.

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