The UK Government has warned against all but essential international travel due to the coronavirus pandemic. Borders are being closed and flights across the board are naturally being cancelled.

So, what should worried holidaymakers do if their flights or package holidays are cancelled? What rights do they have? Thomas Lewis, civil litigation solicitor at WBW Solicitors in Exeter, explains.

Following the advice from the Foreign Office all international travel, airlines and travel agents have an obligation to cancel flights and holidays and give out refunds or let you rebook for another time. Many firms are reportedly trying to wriggle out of this duty and are just offering holiday makers credit vouchers or the opportunity to rearrange their holiday dates.

Because we have no idea how long the travel restrictions will last, accepting credit or the right to rebook is not ideal particularly given that many travel firms and airlines are facing possible collapse. You may wish to be firm and insist on a refund as is your legal right.

Your right to a refund for a package holiday is granted under the Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations 2018. The regulations classified holiday travel arrangements as packages. They cover ‘ready-made’ holidays where you book through one company and pay one price as well as many tailor-made trips and shopping basket type sales on websites where you select the different elements such as flight and hotel.

If you booked your travel arrangements separately, for example a flight directly with an airline and a hotel through an accommodation booking website, these are unlikely to have any financial or legal protection under the 2018 Package Travel Regulations. However, you might have protection for the individual services in other ways such as with travel insurance or with your debit or credit card. You should check with your providers.

Under EC Regulation No. 261/2004, if your flight is cancelled, you will be entitled to the option of either:
• a full refund;
• a free replacement flight to your final destination, even if it is with an alternative airline; or
• a free replacement flight at a future date, subject to availability of seats.

Again, in these uncertain times, you should insist on a full refund if that is what you prefer.

If you are already abroad, your chosen airline has a legal duty to get you home – either on its own aircraft or on that of another airline. The new Foreign Office directive means that you can claim from your travel insurer for consequential losses, such as hotel rooms you booked or car hire. However, you will not be entitled to any compensation such as flight delay compensation under EU261 rules, as a virus outbreak is considered an extraordinary circumstance.

For further information, please contact Tom Lewis in the disputes team on 01392 274126 or email thomaslewis@wbw.co.uk. WBW Solicitors has offices in Newton AbbotTorquayPaigntonBovey Tracey, ExeterLauncestonHonitonSidmouth and Exmouth.

This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.