Travel and the coronavirus crisis: What can be done?

Coronavirus: The new rules for travelling abroad

The rules and remedies depend on where you live in the UK

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
@SimonCalder
Wednesday 23 September 2020 06:07
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The four nations of the UK have introduced new restrictions aimed at reducing the growth in coronavirus infections. These are the implications if you plan to travel abroad.

(In any event, you should not leave home if you or anyone in your household has any symptoms of coronavirus, including a high temperature, a continuous cough or a loss of smell or taste.)

Scottish people have been told not to book a holiday for October half-term. What if I have already booked?

The first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said: “Given that this is a global pandemic, please do not book travel overseas for the October break if it is not essential.”

“Please think of the October break as an opportunity to further limit social interaction,” she said.

This is a request, not a legal requirement, and does not affect people who have booked travel in the future. If you choose not to travel, your holiday company is unlikely to contemplate offering a refund.

Many prospective travellers may regarded it as an unusual appeal, given that many popular holiday locations, including Italy, Cyprus and Turkey, have lower infection levels than Scotland, and also enjoy an outdoor lifestyle long into the autumn. 

Mike Tibbert, vice-president of the Scottish Passengers’ Agents’ Association, called the policy “unnecessary, wholly gratuitous, and extremely damaging for the Scottish travel industry”.

I live in a lockdown area of Wales and I have a holiday booked. Can I go?

No. The general policy of the Welsh government for places of high infection rates is that a holiday does not constitute grounds for leaving the area.

“The regulations are in place to protect you and your loved ones from coronavirus and to prevent the onward spread of the virus to other areas of Wales, the UK and other countries,” says the government in Cardiff.

“Contact the travel agent or travel company to discuss the current situation…and the restrictions which have been put in place by the Welsh Government to restrict non-essential travel.”

Can I get a refund if I can’t legally take my holiday?

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) says you should. A refund is due, says the CMA, when “a consumer is prevented from receiving any goods or services, because, for example, lockdown laws…have made it illegal to receive or use the goods or services”.

But note the word “generally” when the CMA says: “A consumer will generally be entitled to a refund when they have paid money in advance for services or goods that cannot be provided because of the coronavirus pandemic.”

This view is not substantiated by the Package Travel Regulations 2018, and has yet to be fully tested in court. While package holiday companies such as Tui and Jet2 have largely been cooperative, a DIY trip could prove trickier.

Ryanair and Wizz Air have not been providing refunds or free rebooking opportunities when the flight goes ahead, and an overseas accommodation provider may not be interested in the reasons for your cancellation – though may be prepared to discuss a postponement.

I live in a lockdown area in England and I have a holiday booked. Can I go?

The advice for areas in local lockdown is slightly conflicted, but the broad answer is: yes.

For the areas in England that are currently subject to additional restrictions, such as Bolton, the government says: “We advise that you should only travel for essential reasons when travelling into, within and out of Bolton.” The definition of “essential” includes working, education or medical care.

But the government also says: “You can still go on holiday outside of Bolton, but you should only do this with people you live with.”

Therefore you could travel with your family to Manchester airport and go on holiday, but not with a group of friends.

But I am booked with three mates. Can we get a refund for our holiday?

That is a tricky issue. If you are booked on a proper package holiday, and can show the tour operator that you had originally booked with people from other households, then you may be able to claim a refund (citing the CMA view if necessary).

But if you were planning to drive together to, say, Germany, via the Channel Tunnel there is much less likelihood of recompense. However, Eurotunnel will allow postponements without penalty.

We live in Glasgow under local lockdown measures and are booked to go on holiday to Turkey with two other couples. Can we socialise when we get there?

You would be infringing the Scottish rule that “no more than six people from up to two different households should meet at a time” by meeting in a bar in Bodrum, but in all cases local law applies.

Note that you will probably be flying on a plane with 180 total strangers from different households.

Much of northeast England is “an area of national intervention”. Can I fly to and from Newcastle airport?

Yes, although the authorities would prefer it you do not use the Tyne & Wear Metro to reach or leave the airport. They say you are “advised to only use public transport for essential purposes”.

Will travel insurance cover any losses?

It all depends on the wording of the policy – which may in turn depend on when you took out the cover. Policies issued before mid-March 2020 are likely to be more generous than those sold afterwards. But you should make every effort to recover money from the suppliers before going to your insurer.

Is it even worth - or morally justifiable - contemplating a foreign holiday right now?

Like the devolved administration in Scotland, the Northern Ireland government urges its citizens to think twice about going abroad: “Carefully consider your holiday and travel options, in light of the continuing Covid-19 threat.

“A 'staycation' is one way of mitigating the risks, while also supporting the local economy.”

But being in a warm, sunny location such as Cyprus, southern Italy or mainland Greece, with a very low risk of coronavirus and predominately outdoor lifestyle, is likely to place you at a much lower risk of contracting the virus – and will also have great benefits for mind and body.

Bear in mind, though, that the rapidly changing quarantine rules mean you may need to self-isolate for 14 days on your return.

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