Coronavirus travel and refund rights – including if you have to cancel your trip
More than 82,000 people have been diagnosed with the life-threatening coronavirus – with almost 3,000 deaths now recorded, including 12 in Northern Italy.
And with new cases of the virus being diagnosed in more locations every week, it's hard to predict where it will pop up next.
As a result, airlines have grounded flights, while the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has advised against travel to several big tourist destinations .
So what are your rights if you've had to cancel your trip – or have had your flight cancelled due to the rapidly spreading illness?
Passengers have been left furious after it emerged airlines such as British Airways and easyJet are refusing refunds for flights cancelled due to the illness.
To help, we asked flight delay compensation solicitors at Bott and Co for your rights – including whether you have added protection if you paid via credit card.
Will I get a refund if my flight leaving from the UK is cancelled?
Yes. Your flight will be covered under EC Regulation No. 261/2004 and regardless of when it's cancelled, you will be entitled to the option of either:
a) A full refund
b) A free replacement flight to your final destination, even if it’s with a different airline
c) A free replacement flight at a later date, subject to availability of seats (this means you can choose any future date to fly again, perhaps once the travel restrictions have been lifted).
If the FCO hasn't issued a warning, you can't expect compensation if you decide to call your journey off.
Su Crown, a spokesperson for the Association of British Insurers, said: "In general, cancellation or travel disruption cover will activate when the FCO advises against all travel or all but essential travel to an area.
"Travel insurance is not designed to cover 'disinclination to travel' where the FCO advice has not changed to advise against travel."
AXA UK, one of the leading travel insurers, agrees with that view.
"Our stance is consistent with the travel advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office," says Nel Mooy, its head of travel proposition.
"When the FCO advises against travel to a country or a region, people who are booked to travel there should call their airline or travel provider to cancel or postpone and arrange a refund," Axa said.
"Then they should contact their insurer to register a claim."
What if my trip involves a connecting flight through a banned area?
The rights above apply to getting to your 'final destination'.
For example, if you were due to fly from Heathrow to Shanghai and then Shanghai to Sydney and the flight from Heathrow was cancelled, then the operating air carrier will still be obliged to get you to Sydney or provide a refund, depending on your preference.
What if my cancelled flight and a connecting flights were booked separately?
In this case, you would not be entitled to a refund of the latter. The rules only apply to connecting flights booked together. If you book two flights separately, then the operating air carrier has no responsibility for the subsequent flights.
Will I get my money back if I cancel my trip to a country not on the FCO's list?
Unfortunately, under these circumstances you will have no rights to a refund or a replacement flight (unless of course you purchased a flexible ticket that allows changes or cancellation).
What if I booked via a third party agent or on my credit card?
If you wish to enforce your rights under the EU Regulation, then you should contact the operating air carrier – not the agent.
Section 75 – which offers refunds on failed credit card purchases – applies to claims for breach of contract or misrepresentation and is unlikely to apply in this situation (In any event the rights under EU Reg 261/2004 are far more generous).
If the refund is being claimed under EC Regulation 261/2004, then there’s no doubt about it, it should come from the operating air carrier.
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