Coronavirus: Your travel questions answered

Readers express concerns over cancelled flights, travel insurance and holidays

 A flight departure board shows cancelled fligths to Italy and Germany over  coronavirus. Photograph: Stephanie Lecocq

A flight departure board shows cancelled fligths to Italy and Germany over coronavirus. Photograph: Stephanie Lecocq

 

We asked readers to submit their travel concerns and questions. Below are a selection of answers, which we will continue to add to.

Question: I am booked to visit my daughter in Abu Dhabi from 26th March. There are understandably restrictions there. I am 68 years old in good health but did have a surgical procedure just under two months ago. I’m considering whether I should defer the trip for maybe six months?  - Eric Greaves
Answer: We have spoken to people working in the tourism sector and to medics about this topic. While everyone is free to make their own decisions, questions that they may want to ask themselves is how much would they enjoy the trip and the lead up to the trip in the current climate. And how would they cope if they fell ill overseas? There has been much talk about the curve of this illness, and while the data is nowhere near complete enough to draw a good picture, the experience in other countries would suggest that we are some considerable way off the peak. That could come just as this reader is heading away, or while they are away. More travel restrictions would be likely – if not inevitable. If the option to defer the trip is on the table, then it is certainly something worth considering very carefully.

Question: We are booked to go to Lanzarote on Monday with TUI. Should we be considering cancelling this, and will we be covered by the travel insurance we have with the Vhi? - Cliona Woodbyrne
Answer:: As there are no travel restrictions in place for Lanzarote you would not be covered by your travel insurance if you decided not to go. Disinclination to travel – even for very good reasons such as fears over the spread of coronavirus - are not covered. That is not, however, the be all and end all, and the ultimate decision should be made on the basis of whether or not you are happy to travel and whether or not it is safe to do so. While losing money is obviously a concern to all of us, the thing of paramount concern is health – both yours and the people around you. We have heard stories of people travelling to Italy in recent days as the scale of the crisis was becoming apparent just because they did not want to lose money. Making decisions on that basis alone does not make any sense.

Question: I’m planning to fly to Hungary at the end of this month for two and a half weeks with my two young kids. Shall I buy travel insurance because the flights might get cancelled? Health insurance is taken care of. Would I get a refund if flights are cancelled? Or only if I have travel insurance?  - Zita Mahmood
Answer: If the flights are cancelled then – under EU Flight Directive 261 – impacted passengers are entitled to  a refund or a re-routing. Having said that, we would be of the opinion that travel insurance is an important thing to have at the best of times. And this is most certainly not the best of times.  

Question: Myself and four friends were due to attend the Ireland vs Slovakia European Championship play-off on March 26th. This involves flying into Munich on the 25th, getting the train from there to Bratislava via Vienna and then flying home from Vienna at the weekend. All booked including accommodation. Unsure of where we stand with it all?  - Mark Nother
Answer: As you will know, the match – if it goes ahead – will have to be played behind closed doors. That means you will be entitled to a refund of your ticket to the game. You will, however, be on much shakier ground when it comes to flights and accommodation. The Irish Times spoke to Adam French, a consumer rights expert with Which? in connection with the cancellation of the Six Nations match between Ireland and France at the weekend, and much the same advice applies to soccer supporters. “Unfortunately it will be harder to get a refund on any travel or accommodation booked for the match, unless these were purchased as part of a package deal.” Dermot Jewell, policy adviser with the Consumer Association of Ireland, has said individual hotels or airlines may cut deals with fans, but he advised that people should try to get in touch directly with their accommodation provider and be prepared to bargain.

Question: I bought a flight to London, going out on March 24th and returning on the 25th. I would like to know if the are flights cancelled? Or if I need to pay a fee if I reschedule – Lívia Teixeira.
Answer: As it stands, all airlines are operating their full schedules to and from London and no restrictions are in place. While this is a fast-evolving situation and things are changing almost by the hour, there is probably little point in doing anything right now but wait to see what happens next.

Question: We’ve return flights booked with Aer Lingus to the US for Easter between April 11th and 19th. Will Aer Lingus allow us to change the dates given the current scenario with the coronavirus? Will they issue a credit to travel at a different date – Kevin Denner.
Answer: That seems unlikely at this stage. People who have flights booked to areas where the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has warned against travel should be able rebook flights and get refunds from airlines. Aer Lingus has said passengers who make new bookings to multiple destinations will be able to reschedule free of charge depending on how the current crisis pans out, but those with older bookings to any of the destinations serviced by Aer Lingus are being offered little comfort.

There are no travel advisories in place for the United States right now and people who have decided – for very understandable reasons – not to travel at this time may have to take very significant financial hit.

According to a spokeswoman for the European Consumer Centre(ECC), when people cancel their holiday to an area where no emergency measures are declared, “the holiday cancellation is, of course, strictly within the limits of the booking contract. This means that, if payments made to secure the booking are partly or wholly refundable, the amount of the refund will be dictated by the usual applicable terms and conditions. In addition, where passengers cancel their flights voluntarily, they are entitled to a full refund of airport taxes as the cancellation takes place before the flight check-in operation.”

Question: I would like to travel to France in May. Are airlines refunding tickets for flights which get cancelled in the future? – David Noone
Answer: If an airline cancels a flight in the coming days then affected passengers will be entitled to a refund or a re-routing. That means that a person looking to book a flight today can do so and be fairly secure in the knowledge that they will not be financially penalised in the event that the current crisis worsens significantly.

The ECC is recommending that before booking a trip to or near areas affected by the coronavirus, “consumers should first check the websiteof the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFA), which currently recommends avoiding travel to selected regions including Italy”.

Question: Booked to fly to Rome with Aer Lingus from April 14th - 17th. Can I get money back on flight and accommodation? – Ultan Henry
Answer: Aer Lingus has cancelled all flights to and from Italy until April 3rd. It is very unclear what is going to happen after that. If normal service is resumed then cancelling flights would be not be allowed - or at least the cost would have to be borne by individual passengers.

Question: My son has a school trip to Strasbourg, France in three weeks. The Grand Est region is currently a hotspot in France for the virus. The school-trip firm who organise the tour are offering a 20 per cent refund if a family decide to cancel by this Friday 13th. If a flight ban or travel ban to the region is later implemented (by the French or our government will we be able recoup more from the cancellation? – Ken Black
Answer: Generally speaking, people with package holidays involving a journey to, or a stay in, areas affected by travel restrictions due to the virus, are likely to have the right to terminate the booking contract without paying a termination fee. This applies only to unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances that may pose a significant risk to human health and prevent consumers from making use of or reaching the destination of their booked holiday, as agreed in the travel contract. In the event that travel restrictions apply to Strasbourg than a full refund should be sought. If that is not forthcoming then claim could be lodged with a travel insurance provider.

Question: We are due to go on a family holiday to Portugal at the beginning of May, with our five- and two-year-old children. Currently, we have paid for the flights and 50 per cent of the hotel, the balance is due next week. I am thinking of just forfeiting the money spent to date and not throwing good money after bad by paying the balance due. Any advice? – James Byrne
Answer: This is a very tough question to answer. By cancelling at this stage you will most likely lose all of the money spent so far. But by paying the balance you might just be increasing your losses. This is perhaps where travel insurance is most valuable. Earlier this month, Mapfre, the company that underwrites much of the travel insurance in Ireland issued fresh guidelines for people who may be travelling outside the country in the days, weeks and months ahead and are increasingly concerned about the impact of the spread of the coronavirus on their plans.

At that stage, those immediately affected were people who had been due to travel to the Hubei province of China and had a trip booked before January 23rd, anyone due to travel to mainland China (not including Hong Kong and Macao) with a trip booked before January 28th, and people booked to travel to certain regions of northern Italy with a trip booked before February 24th.

The dates were important. People who had travel insurance in place before those dates may, the company said, be in a position to claim money back as the Department of Foreign Affairs had said on or before the dates of departure, that it had advised against “All but essential travel”.

“If the cancellation section of your policy lists as an insured peril cover where the Irish Government announces that travellers are recommended to avoid the country or area you have planned to visit, we will consider cancellation claims within 48 hours of your intended date of departure as long as that advice is in place,” Mapfre said.

Right now, there are more travel restrictions in place covering all of Italy. But there are no travel restrictions in place for Portugal.

So perhaps the best course of action would be to pay the balance of the holiday and take out a good travel insurance policy that lists as an insured peril cover where the Irish Government announces that travellers are recommended to avoid the country or area.

That would protect this reader to a degree. But there is something else that needs to be addressed. There may be no travel restricitions in place in May covering Portugal. And still, this family may be reluctant to travel. Mapfre reminded people that if their trip did not involve travel to an affected areas but they were concerned about the risk of going on a trip, its travel insurance policies do not provide cover “for disinclination to travel”.

– Further answers to come

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