These are your rights if you get stranded abroad amid the coronavirus outbreak - and what to do if you have a holiday planned

Monday, 16th March 2020, 4:10 pm
Updated Tuesday, 17th March 2020, 7:44 pm
If you opt to go against official travel advice, you are at risk of invalidating your travel insurance (Photo: Shutterstock)

As cases of coronavirus continue to rise across the globe, there is much uncertainty about whether it’s safe to travel.

The virus, also known as Covid-19, has been confirmed in more than 120 countries according to the World Health Organization (WHO), with Europe now the epicentre of the outbreak, which originated in China.

In an effort to contain further spread, strict travel bans have been imposed in numerous countries, with travellers now advised against all but essential travel to the worst hit areas.

What are my rights if I get stranded abroad?

Airlines and insurers generally issue travel recommendations based on official guidance from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).

If you opt to go against this advice and visit a high risk country, or any other region the FCO is warning against visiting, you are at risk of invalidating your travel insurance.

If the FCO is advising against “all but essential travel”, and your trip is essential, some insurers will still maintain their cover. However, your rights can also depend on your choice of airline.

It is recommended that you carefully check the small print of both your insurance policy and the airline you booked with before you travel.

If your flight has been cancelled, your airline should get in touch via email or text with advice on what you should do next.

Under European air passengers' rights rules, your airline is required to find and pay for alternative transport for you and, in some cases, offer additional support, such as food and accommodation.

However, due to the number of passengers that may be affected by cancellations, you may receive a refund but will be responsible for arranging your own journey back home.

Some insurers may not cover cancellations, but a number of airlines are currently allowing passengers to rebook flights for free, including British Airways, Easyjet and Virgin Atlantic.

What is considered as ‘essential travel’?

The FCO can advise against all but essential travel to a particular destination, but whether travel is classed as ‘essential’ or not is a decision that rests upon individuals themselves.

‘Essential’ travel could include urgent family or business commitments, with circumstances differing from person to person. The FCO says that only you can make an informed decision based on the risks.

No travel is completely safe, but the official advice always aims to put individuals’ safety first, based on objective judgements.

The FCO says it will advise against all but essential travel when it judges the level of risk to be unacceptably high.

What happens if my holiday destination has imposed travel restrictions?

If you have booked a holiday to a country that has imposed strict travel restrictions, it may be possible to claim for the cancellation of your trip on your travel insurance policy.

“Some policies include cancellation if the FCO advise against ‘all but essential travel’ to the destination,” Kingsley explained.

“And a few will offer cancellation cover for ‘cancellation due to any cause beyond your reasonable control’, which would cover you if the FCO advice changed.

“It is important to note that there must be no travel restrictions in place at the time the policy was purchased.

“Unfortunately cancellation cover doesn’t include cancelling a trip due to the fear of an epidemic or pandemic, as this is classed as disinclination to travel.

“The only exception to this would be those with underlying health conditions who have a letter from their GP or treating doctor confirming they are advised not to travel to an area due to their condition.”

What happens if I am quarantined on holiday?

If you are quarantined while on holiday, you should contact your travel insurance provider and advise them of the situation. Some insurers will extend the cover free of charge, although some may require an additional premium, depending on the length of the extension.

Some insurance providers will also provide cover for any pre-booked and paid-for missed excursions, up to the limit on the policy you have bought, Rebecca Kingsley of Travel Insurance Explained said.

“If you are quarantined on holiday, you generally cannot claim for curtailment as you have not cut your trip short,” she said.

“However, on a small number of policies, a daily benefit might be payable if you are admitted to hospital or confined to your trip accommodation on medical advice. As always we would advise customers to check their policy wordings.”

What happens if I get quarantined for another 14 days when I get home?

If you have been quarantined on holiday and then forced to isolate for another 14 days on your return, you won’t be able to claim for loss of earnings on your travel insurance policy as this is known as consequential loss.

Travel insurance will usually cease to provide cover once you have landed back in your home country, Kingsley explains.