Some UK travellers are still struggling to get home as airports shut and countries close their borders to stop the spread of coronavirus.
The government has pledged to spend £75m to help Britons get home by chartering rescue flights when there are no other routes available. But there are still reports of travellers who have not yet managed to get home.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department for Trade have enlisted the help of a group of airlines – Virgin, EasyJet, Jet2 and Titan Airways – in countries where there are still commercial routes available. British Airways has also made a commitment.
Where there is no commercial option, the FCO will organise charter flights to bring Brits home.
When seats become available, embassies around the world will alert any British national in their country wanting to come home.
The foreign office has advised UK residents currently travelling abroad to come home. Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab said: ‘We are strongly urging UK travellers overseas to return home now where and while there are still commercial routes to do so.’
Up to a million British citizens are thought to be still overseas trying to get home. Easyjet has grounded its entire fleet and there are no more Ryanair or Jet2 flights available to book from mainland Spain to the UK. The FCO has warned that any country or area may restrict travel without notice. It has advised that nobody should travel abroad unless it’s essential. It has also added a ‘Return to the UK’ section for the travel advice for every country covered on its website.
The situation has left consumers unsure what to do about existing bookings and whether they are entitled to a refund for cancelled flights, holidays and hotels.
Many are confused about their options when booking future holidays or rescheduling trips that were unable to go ahead. Major travel insurers have also stopped covering coronavirus-related claims due to the pandemic.
Video: Coronavirus – your travel questions answered
Below, we explain your rights in these unprecedented circumstances. Click on the links for answers to these questions:
- I’m stranded abroad. What should I do?
- Can I get money back for a cancelled holiday?
- Are airlines issuing refunds?
- What about my accommodation? Can I get a refund?
- What about ferries?
- Should I cancel my summer holiday?
- Is coronavirus covered by my travel insurance?
- My travel is essential. What do I need to know?
- When the ban is lifted how can I travel safely?
You can keep up to date with our latest advice on the coronavirus outbreak over on our coronavirus advice hub.
I’m stranded abroad. What should I do?
UK travellers struggling to return home due to the outbreak have accused airlines of leaving them stranded or demanding extortionate fees.
Many countries around the world have gone into lockdown, leaving holidaymakers in a race to fly home before borders close and flights are stopped.
What should I do? If you’re already overseas, the airline is legally bound to get you home – either on its own planes or on those of another airline.
If you’re forced to make your own arrangements, it owes you the cost of that flight – as long as you were due to fly from an EU airport or on an EU carrier.
You can also claim back the cost of additional accommodation expenses you incurred, as well as any other reasonable costs like transport to the airport.
If your airline is ignoring the rules, don’t claim a refund. Instead come home on any airline you can as soon as possible and bill the original airline for the new ticket. Pay with a credit card if possible.
You can use sites such as Skyscanner to find routes home, as it can find options involving several transfers. Just make sure that you will be allowed entry in the airports where flights connect, as British nationals are now banned from many destinations.
Can I get money back for a cancelled holiday because of coronavirus?
The FCO advice against all foreign travel until 16 April means that airlines and travel agents are obliged to cancel flights and holidays, and issue refunds or allow you to rebook for a future date.
However, many companies are ignoring this requirement and are refusing to reimburse customers. This includes package holidays covered by Package Holiday and Linked Travel Regulations 2018.
However, travellers may not be in a position to rebook or may be uneasy about accepting credit, as many holiday providers are facing uncertain futures.
Travel Association Abta is calling on government to make temporary changes to existing package travel regulations. It argues that these protections were not designed to cope with the demands currently being placed on them.
It also wants the time limit for companies to issue refunds to be extended from two weeks to four months.
We are calling on the government to provide the necessary funding to support companies at risk of collapse. We also want them to underwrite any rescheduled holidays. That would ensure customers still receive a full refund even if their provider goes bust before they have a chance to redeem their holiday.
The law says you are entitled to a full refund, so don’t accept a voucher if you have any concerns. Which? Travel is lobbying on your behalf to ensure consumers are not left out of pocket at a time when they may already be feeling financial strain.
What should I do? If your flight or package holiday was scheduled before 16 April and it’s now cancelled, you don’t have to accept a voucher or credit note, nor do you have to rebook. You are legally entitled to a refund. Make this clear to the firm, in writing. If it still won’t do the right thing, you could send them a letter before action for small claims court.
Some airline passengers who booked with a credit card are also attempting to claim from the card provider. It is unclear yet whether they will be successful but Which? Legal are recommending that consumers pursue this route if there is no other option available.
The new advice from the FCO also means you can claim from your travel insurer for consequential losses, such as booked hotel rooms or car hire. However, you won’t be entitled to any compensation, such as flight delay compensation under EU261 rules, as a disease outbreak is considered an extraordinary circumstance.
Find out more about your rights with our guide to cancelling a holiday due to unrest or natural disaster.
Are airlines issuing refunds?
If your flight was cancelled, you are due a refund. However, airlines like British Airways, Ryanair and easyJet are making it very difficult to claim.
Ryanair is advising passengers with cancelled flights to apply for a refund online. But customers are struggling to make the refund system work, with many receiving error messages when they try to claim. Others have reported waits of up to six hours to receive a reply from its Live Chat.
Meanwhile, British Airways has been directing customers to claim a voucher for future rebooking. Those that want a refund are required to phone the airline directly, despite its request to not ‘call or message unless you’re travelling in the next 72 hours.’
Easyjet has now grounded its entire fleet in response to the pandemic. The carrier had already slashed its service, but had been running rescue flights to bring home Britons stranded abroad.
Rest assured, you don’t have to request a refund before your flight’s scheduled departure. In fact you have at least 12 months to make a claim.
What should I do? If your flight is cancelled, you are due a refund. Many people are telling us that the airline websites aren’t working for refunds. Your options are to keep trying or to try to claim through your debit or credit card provider, or paypal.
British Airways, Ryanair, EasyJet hasn’t cancelled my flight. Can I claim a refund?
Unfortunately not. Some flights are still operating, and that’s important because these are needed to get people home. But British Airways, Ryanair, EasyJet and Jet2 are refusing to refund passengers who understandably don’t want to fly because of the FCO warning against travel. However, almost all of their flights will now be cancelled. As soon as you receive email confirmation that your flight has been cancelled you can make a claim. However, it may be worth waiting if you can afford it as it’s currently extremely hard to get through to call centres.
After pressure from Which?, all airlines are now allowing customers to rebook to all destinations, although we have heard complaints from passengers who were unable to access websites or apps to complete the rebooking in time.
But take care when rebooking your flight that you don’t get ripped off. Some Ryanair passengers have found that fares when rebooking are more expensive than a new ticket on the same flight.
What should I do? If your airline has not cancelled a flight due to depart before 16 April, despite the FCO warning against travel, the best practical advice we can give is to rebook your flight, and rebook again until one of the rebookings gets cancelled. This is likely, as airlines continue to reduce schedules.
What about my accommodation? Can I get a refund?
Airbnb, Booking.com and some major hotel chains are waiving their cancellation fees for those whose travel plans have been abandoned because of the outbreak.
Airbnb said that reservations for stays and experiences made on or before 14 March with a check-in date between 14 March and 14 April 2020 are eligible for a full refund, if customers cancel before check-in.
Chains such as IHG, Hilton and Premier Inn are giving guests the option to cancel or amend bookings without charge. Booking.com is also asking its properties to waive cancellation fees for affected customers.
Similarly, Expedia is asking customers to change or cancel reservations using their online account. It says that changes to most hotels, flights, car rentals and activities won’t incur any additional fees.
Hotels.com is waiving cancellation fees on a case-by-case basis, depending on the country you are travelling to or from. For example, hotels for China, Hong Kong or Macau are only fully refundable if they were booked before 30 January. You can check the full list on its website.
What should I do? Some hotels, especially in Spain and Italy, have closed. If your hotel has closed, you’re due a full refund.
If it hasn’t closed, you are reliant on the goodwill of the hotel or the website that you booked with.
What about ferries?
If you’re booked on a ferry service that’s been cancelled, you should be offered a choice between an alternative journey or a full refund.
Brittany Ferries has cancelled all passenger services to France and Spain, and DFDS has cancelled its Amsterdam to Newcastle service, until 13 April at the earliest. If you’re affected, you’ll automatically get a credit voucher, equivalent to the ticket price, to use on a future service. You’re entitled to request a refund instead, but you’ll need to contact the company directly.
Not all ferry services have been cancelled, however, meaning you might be charged a cancellation fee if you decide not to travel. This currently applies to all journeys with P&O Ferries, for example.
Other companies that are still running services, including Irish Ferries and Stena Line, have waived the cancellation fee on all routes until the end of April, so you can cancel for free and get the value of your ticket as credit to use on a future service.
What should I do? If you’re due to travel in March or April and your ferry journey has been cancelled, you’ll either get a credit voucher or you can request a refund. If the service hasn’t been cancelled and your travel is non-essential, you should either amend or cancel the booking, whichever is cheaper.
For journeys after April, hold off on cancelling or amending your booking for now, as the official advice may change closer to the time of your booking.
If you have a package holiday booked, the short answer is ‘not yet’. The FCO ban on all but essential travel only runs until 15 April. For any holidays departing after that date, you’ll probably have to pay cancellation fees and you won’t be able to claim on insurance.
If you’ve booked flights or a cruise for later in the year, some companies have taken a more flexible approach, allowing you to postpone your holiday with no charge. Emirates, for example, is offering free date and destination charges for travel up to 30 June.
For more detail on whether/when to cancel package holidays, flights, accommodation and cruises planned for summer 2020, read our in-depth guide, Coronavirus: should you cancel your summer holiday?
What should I do? Be patient. If you cancel without a specific FCO warning against travel to your destination normal cancellation charges will apply. Ask your travel company if you can rebook for a later date, or wait until the FCO advice is extended.
Is coronavirus covered by my travel insurance?
Major travel insurers have responded to the pandemic by changing policies so they no longer cover coronavirus-related incidents.
Admiral, Churchill, Direct Line, LV, More Than and the Post Office have temporarily suspended the sale of travel insurance to new customers. Existing customers are unaffected.
Allianz, Aviva, Axa, Holiday Extras, InsureandGo and Staysure have also changed aspects of their policies.
Most policies will not provide cancellation, disruption or abandonment cover if you travel or book a holiday against FCO advice.
What should I do? If you can no longer travel due to FCO advice, you may be able to claim from your insurer for any costs that won’t be refunded. Check with your insurer.
For more information, see our separate guide on what coronavirus means for your travel insurance.
What if I’m taking out travel insurance now?
If your holiday is later in the year, it’s important to get travel insurance as soon as you can.
It might be harder to find a policy that covers you, due to the number of insurers that have pulled out of the market, but it’s worth shopping around to see what you can find.
When we checked, M&S Bank was still selling policies and treating COVID-19 as a ‘known event’. Although it’s no longer covering new customers for cancellation or abandonment, it continues to offer the rest of its cover.
Make sure your travel insurance includes medical evacuation and repatriation cover, in case you fall ill and have to be transported home.
For more information, read our guide to the best and worst travel insurance companies.
My travel is essential. What do I need to know?
In most cases you should not be travelling. Make sure you check the latest advice for your destination on the Foreign Office website and Fit For Travel.
If you’re concerned about the risks to you, speak to your doctor. Older travellers and those with underlying health conditions are most vulnerable.
Make sure to check in with your travel insurance provider before you travel. Admiral, The Co-op and NFU Mutual said they wouldn’t cover anyone who travels to a country that has an ‘all but essential travel’ warning in place, regardless of the reason.
When the ban is lifted how can I travel safely?
Which? Travel spoke to Dr Jane Wilson-Howarth, author of several travel health guides, for her advice on protecting yourself against infection. She says:
- Wash your hands thoroughly before eating and drinking, and after visiting the toilet. Alcohol-based gels aren’t nearly as effective as plenty of soap and water. Choose a window seat on the plane, if possible. A 2018 study found that these passengers typically only come into contact with 12 other people, compared with those in middle (58 people) or aisle seats (64). There is currently insufficient evidence around the effectiveness of paper surgical masks. Instead use good hygiene etiquette, and cover your nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing
Fit For Travel also advises travellers to consider carrying a small first aid kit, with a thermometer or strips to check body temperature.
Avoid contact with animals and people who appear unwell, including their personal items. And make contactless payments where possible to avoid handling cash.
COVID-19 is a respiratory disease that has flu-like symptoms – including a fever, cough and shortness of breath.
Anyone who is worried that they may have contracted the disease should use the NHS 111 site. There you’ll find advice on whether you should call 111 for further assistance.
How to protect yourself and others from coronavirus We explain how to help prevent infection, and which health products are worth buying and which ones are not.