09 Apr
2020

Coronavirus advice for customers

Please be aware we’re receiving an exceptional volume of customer enquiries, which we are responding to as quickly as we can. Unfortunately, we cannot respond to all of these calls directly, so please check our Q&A below.

ABTA Members are doing their best to manage arrangements for customers. If your trip is not imminent, your travel company may not be in touch with you right away. Our advice is to keep trying, though please do be patient. 


Travel update

At this time the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) currently advises against all non-essential overseas travel for British nationals. However this travel restriction can be removed at any time, so travel companies are doing their best to manage arrangements for customers.  

Each company will have their own process for managing future departures and will be contacting customers due to travel imminently. There is no legal definition of ‘imminent travel’, however it is generally considered to be within the next few days.

Our advice to customers with future bookings is to be patient and wait to be contacted by your travel provider. Travel companies are extremely busy, given the pressures of the current crisis, and will be looking at imminent departures first and deciding how far in advance they will offer alternative arrangements or refunds.

On 23 March the FCO advised all British travellers to return to the UK.


General travel advice for travellers

The FCO currently advises against all non-essential overseas travel for British nationals. British people who decide that they still need to travel abroad should be fully aware of the increased risks of doing so. That includes the risk that they may not be able to get home, if travel restrictions are put in place.

For the latest updates please visit the Government’s dedicated Coronavirus travel advice page.

Those currently in destination are advised by the Government to return to the UK now and should contact their travel company. They should also be aware that many destination authorities have introduced enhanced health measures including self-isolation procedures, and it is very important that travellers follow the public health advice relating to their local destination. Travellers should comply with these processes and take relevant preventative measures to reduce the risk of exposure. Travellers should also keep up to date on local advice.

For full information relating to the Coronavirus outbreak please visit the Government website, Public Health England and the TravelHealthPro website.
 

Advice to customers seeking refunds and with forward bookings

On 17 March the Government advised against all non-essential travel overseas, which has effectively brought travel overseas to a complete standstill and led to hundreds of thousands of holidaymakers not being able to take their holiday. 

We completely understand that customers may feel frustrated and concerned by the process of receiving a refund, and we have sought urgent Government intervention. In the meantime, we ask for your patience and understanding at this incredibly challenging time, this situation is completely unprecedented. 
 
Many tour operators and travel agents are doing all they can to help customers but they simply don’t have the cash to pay customers a cash refund in a 14 day period, as they have not yet received money back from hotels and airlines. Forcing them to do so would put them out of business, which would mean customers would not recover their money (from ATOL or other schemes) for many more months.

Thousands of customers have already postponed or rebooked their holiday or have received either refund credit notes or cash refunds from their tour operator or travel agent. A very important point to note is that your holiday booking or refund credit note is financially protected in the event your travel business fails. Please see our guide on your options below. 

ABTA's call on the Government

We now need urgent action from the UK Government to help protect customer rights and give travel companies a lifeline. 

The European Commission has already relaxed its position on the regulations, and as a result many other EU countries including France, Italy, Belgium, Spain, Germany, The Netherlands and Denmark have taken action to amend their laws and/or provide additional guidance as a result of the crisis. These new measures will help protect customer rights and provide clear guidance, while ensuring travel companies have a chance of surviving beyond the current crisis.  

We are still waiting for action and guidance from the UK Government.

Important note: It is virtually impossible for ABTA to effectively police Members on coronavirus-related complaints without action from the UK Government on regulations and requirements. For this reason, until we have clear guidance from Government, ABTA will be unable to take enforcement action against ABTA Members in regards to complaints relating to Coronavirus and the provision of refunds. We will continue to manage enquiries and complaints in relation to other queries, as normal.

We’d like to thank customers for their understanding, by following the steps below it will help to ensure your rights are protected and that when this crisis is over UK holidaymakers will be able to book and enjoy their holidays in the same way as they have done for many years.  

We would recommend the following steps:

1.  If your trip has been cancelled because of the change in FCO advice, talk in the first instance to your travel provider to discuss options. 
 
2.  If possible,  amend your holiday or travel arrangements to another date, don’t cancel – this will mean you have a holiday to look forward to in the future, and it will help your travel provider maintain its cash flow through the short-term challenges. 
 
3.  If you are not able to amend your holiday to another date, your travel provider may offer you a Refund Credit Note instead of an immediate cash refund. This Refund Credit Note can be used to rearrange a holiday at a later date and, in the meantime, it is protected by ABTA/ ATOL if your original booking had that protection, so you would be reimbursed if the travel company failed financially.

Further details on this option are below:

  • The Refund Credit Note will have an expiry date, which is the date to which your money is protected, and is based on your travel company’s financial protection arrangements. You are entitled to re-book or have a cash refund by then (if your original booking was for a package holiday).
     
  • The value of the Refund Credit Note must be equal in value to the monies you have actually paid for the protected travel arrangements. 
     
  • The Refund Credit Note must not include any other amount offered as a rebooking incentive or other offer. 
     
  • Any such offers must be documented separately and are not covered by any scheme of financial protection.
     
  • The Refund Credit Note must expressly identify the original booking with booking details and reference.
     
  • You should retain all previous booking documentation including booking confirmations, ATOL Certificates where appropriate and proofs of payment.

4.  If your travel provider has said they will offer a cash refund, please be patient with them as they process this: they are likely to be dealing with an exceptionally high volume of enquiries.
 
Nobody knows for sure how long the current coronavirus pandemic will last, but we know that we will come out of the other side and we need to ensure that when we do, holidaymakers are still able to book and take their holidays and that there is a healthy and competitive travel industry to support them.

Coronavirus Q&A

What does the current travel advice mean for future travel, e.g. my summer holiday booking?

At this time the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) currently advises against all non-essential overseas travel for British nationals. However this travel restriction can be removed at any time, so travel companies are doing their best to manage arrangements for customers.

Each company will have their own process for managing future departures and will be contacting customers due to travel imminently. There is no legal definition of ‘imminent travel’, however it is generally considered to be within the next few days.

Our advice to customers with future bookings is to be patient and wait to be contacted by your travel provider. Travel companies are extremely busy, given the pressures of the current crisis, and will be looking at imminent departures first and deciding how far in advance they will offer alternative arrangements or refunds.

I’m abroad already, should I return home immediately?

All British tourists and short-stay travellers (this does not include permanent residents overseas) currently abroad should return to the UK as soon as possible where and while commercial flight options are still available. 
 
This update reflects the pace at which international travel is becoming more difficult with the closure of borders, airlines suspending flights, airports closing, exit bans and further restrictions being introduced daily. Further closures to air routes may come in the next 48 hours, possibly without notice.
 
See further advice here.

What happens if I have to travel whilst the non-essential advice is in place?

British people who decide that they still need to travel abroad should be fully aware of the increased risks of doing so. That includes the risk that they may not be able to get home, if travel restrictions are put in place. Anyone still considering travel needs to be realistic about the level of disruption they are willing and able to endure, and to make decisions in light of the unprecedented conditions we face.

Anyone planning to travel should check the validity of their travel insurance.

British nationals who need to travel are advised to read the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) travel advice for the country they are travelling to, which includes entry requirements and a link through to the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) TravelHealthPro website that provides specific travel health advice for countries. 

As a precautionary measure enhanced health screening procedures have been put in place at arrival and departure areas in many countries. 

Many countries have also introduced entry restrictions for people travelling from certain countries, travellers are advised to read the FCO travel advice and sign up to email alerts for the country they are travelling to, as these are subject to change at short notice.

What are my options for postponing a trip?

As a result of the extraordinary situation and customer concerns over coronavirus, many travel companies and airlines are doing all they can to offer more flexible booking policies at this time, such as giving customers the option to change their travel date should they wish to postpone their holiday. In certain circumstances this may not be possible. Customers should speak to their travel provider to discuss what their options may be.

If I cannot follow my initial travel plans due to the coronavirus outbreak, am I entitled to compensation?

You won’t be entitled to any compensation, as the reason for the holiday not continuing is outside the control of the tour operator. 

My travel company says it is giving me a refund but that I’ll have to wait. Is there a time limit on this?

Currently, there is no hard and fast rule. If your travel company is able to provide a cash refund, please be patient. They are dealing with a huge number of customers, and with offices closed and staff working from home, it’s a real challenge. ABTA will keep an eye on the situation and encourage ABTA Members to do all they can, but it’s not unreasonable at the moment to expect the process to take upwards of a month.

I have a package holiday booked within the UK, not overseas. Is my holiday affected?

Even though UK holidays don’t come under the FCO’s advice against travel, they are very unlikely to be able to go ahead as planned. Accommodation may be unavailable, activities and bars and restaurants are closed. Therefore, we advise that you follow our general advice above, under “Advice to customers seeking refunds and with forward bookings”.
 

I have a booking coming up for accommodation only in the UK. What is the position for me?

If your accommodation is closed or can’t be provided, follow the advice above under “Advice to customers seeking refunds and with forward bookings”. If it is still available and you decide not to go, look at the terms and conditions to see if you are entitled to any refund or released from any obligation to pay. 

What should I do if I have a trip booked to a sports event and the event has been postponed or cancelled?

This depends on how you booked your holiday and what the terms and conditions say. If the event has been postponed, you should speak to your travel company about rearranging your trip once the new date has been confirmed. 

Advice for ABTA Members, can be found here.