- The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) has advised against all non-essential international travel, initially for a period of 30 days. This advice takes effect immediately (starting 17 March). This change in travel advice reflects the pace at which other countries are either closing their borders or implementing restrictive measures in response to the global coronavirus pandemic
- The government is not advising British people overseas to immediately return to the UK if they are overseas, except for a few countries detailed in its travel advice. However, it says British people should keep in mind that flights may be cancelled at short notice or other travel restrictions may be put in place by foreign governments
- Air travellers to any destination should expect disruption to flights in the form of cancellations, delays and reduced schedules
- The FCO is currently advising against all travel to Hubei Province, and against all but essential travel to the rest of mainland China (not Hong Kong or Macau)
- The FCO is also advising against all travel to the cities of Daegu, Cheongdo and Gyeongsan in South Korea
- Some countries are requiring arriving individuals to enter a period of quarantine – check before you travel
- The success or otherwise of claims for losses or costs suffered as a result of travel disruption will depend on the individual policy. See below for more details.
As more cases of coronavirus arise in countries across the globe, anyone with international travel plans is likely to have concerns about their safety and wellbeing.
For some, that may mean simply choosing not to travel. But would they be able to claim on their travel insurance for any financial loss or costs incurred?
The short answer is – probably not.
Every travel insurance policy has its own terms and conditions, so you’ll need to talk to your insurance company if you are unsure exactly what cover you have.
On that point – if you have a trip booked, make sure you’ve got travel insurance. Don’t wait until nearer to your departure date. This is crucial: travel insurance provides cancellation cover, which means you can claim for the cost of your trip if you can’t go for a compelling reason.
The reasons usually include bereavement, illness or divorce, but they also may include not being able to travel because the government has advised against all but essential travel.
It’s worth stressing: this reason for cancellation will only be accepted if you bought your insurance before any announcement by the government about the destination concerned.
Note also that not every insurer accepts this reason for cancellation, so check before you buy. And if you’ve already bought, check your documents or contact the insurer. You might consider extending your cover or buying another policy if your present policy doesn’t provide this protection.
Travel disruption cover and COVID-19
It’s generally advisable to add trip disruption to your travel insurance policy, which would let you claim in a range of circumstances should your holiday be disrupted. However in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, many travel insurers have withdrawn trip disruption cover from their travel insurance policies – while some aren’t offering any kind of travel insurance at all.
This means you won’t be able to find cover for cancellations or other problems that arise out of the coronavirus situation.
Many travel insurance companies are members of the Association of British Insurers. Collectively, they have pledged to:
- Ensure that customers are provided with, or directed to, the most up-to-date information around the coronavirus outbreak and publish clear information at the point-of-sale around the valid coverage of their policies.
- Work closely with customers to signpost them to where compensation may be received for cancelled transport, holidays or an inability to travel abroad, such as airlines, travel providers and travel agents.
- Upon notification from their customers, help them consider their options for transferring their travel insurance to cover a new destination should people wish to make alternative travel plans.
- Implement business continuity plans to be able to continue to handle travel insurance claims in challenging circumstances.
- Be understanding of the difficulties customers may have in getting medical certification and consider, where appropriate, alternative evidence that customers may be able to provide.
Airline passengers and travel insurance
This guidance applies to Flybe passengers but is likely to apply in the same way if other airlines or travel providers go into administration.
Following the announcement on 5 March that the airline Flybe has gone into administration, passengers with flight bookings will be keen to know if and how they can get a refund for their tickets.
For travellers whose flight was part of an ATOL-protected package holiday, the travel firm you booked with should organise alternative outbound and inbound travel or provide a full refund if the holiday cannot go ahead.
If you made independent arrangements and paid by credit card or debit card, you may be able to recoup the price of your ticket via the chargeback scheme – VISA, Mastercard and American Express all belong to it.
Under the scheme, your card provider will seek a return of your money from Flybe’s payments operator. Your provider will advise you on the process – but they’ll do the legwork on your behalf.
If you paid by credit card (and spent more than £100 on your ticket), you have recourse to a piece of consumer protection regulation known as Section 75. More details here.
If you have spent money on accommodation or car hire or other services and are out of pocket because you have not been able to travel, you should first of all try to get a refund from the business concerned.
If this doesn’t work, you may be able to claim on your travel insurance but only if the policy includes ‘scheduled airline failure’ cover – many do not.
Entry restrictions for travellers
Many countries have introduced entry restrictions at border crossings and transport hubs. If you’ve recently travelled to China or any other affected country you may be refused entry or transit – or you may have to enter a period of quarantine.
There are also screening measures in place at some borders, which could include temperature checks and questions about your health and recent travel. If these screenings identify any cause for concern, you may be asked to undergo further medical checks.
If you need more information about entry restrictions and requirements, you should contact the embassy, consulate or high commission of the destination you’re travelling to – and check with your airline for the status of flights you’re booked on.