The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) has announced this week that it is changing its travel advice for France, Malta, the Netherlands and Aruba.
The FCO now advises against all but essential travel to these destinations over fears of rising numbers of coronavirus cases.
Brits returning to the UK from these countries will also be required to self-isolate for 14 days.
The news has unsurprisingly left holidaymakers with plenty of questions including what to do if your holiday is cancelled, what travel insurance will cover and plenty more.
Our Travel Editor Nigel Thompson is on hand to answer some of the biggest questions for Brits – check out his guide below…
1. Are my consumer rights affected because of Covid-19?
No, certainly not. It’s important for the public to remember that the UK’s consumer laws still apply in full, even during this ongoing crisis.
2. Can I go on holiday to France/Netherlands/Malta now?
No, you should not travel to any of the countries which have joined Spain and Portugal on the Government advice list.
The Foreign & Commonwealth Office says you should not go to France, Malta or the Netherlands on non-essential travel and a holiday, however much you’d like one after the lockdown, is not classed as essential.
3. What if I decide to go anyway?
This is unwise. Going against the new FCO advice will almost certainly invalidate your travel insurance policy and, if you have a medical problem for example, you will not be covered and could incur tens of thousands of pounds in fees. It’s simply not worth the risk. Don’t do it.
4. Will anyone stop me at the airport or ferry terminal to ask if I’m on essential travel?
Possibly, yes. You could be asked at check in, passport control and the gate; being asked to prove why you need to go to your destination. On arrival you may be asked at immigration why you are visiting.
5. I don’t bother with travel insurance and just rely on my EHIC (European Health Insurance Card). Is this OK?
A Absolutely not. The EHIC helps you get free, or reduced cost state medical treatment in all 27 members of the European Union, including France, Malta and the Netherlands.
However, it does not cover other related medical costs, as above. You should never go on holiday anywhere abroad without a suitable travel insurance policy in place.
NB: your EHIC will be invalid from January 1, 2021 when Britain’s Brexit transition period expires.
6. Is my insurance valid if I’m already in France/Malta/Netherlands?
Yes, it should be fine. The Association of British Insurers has said that if you were already on holiday when the FCO advice changed, your insurance is likely to cover you until you return home.
7. Do I need to come home early?
No, the Government says you can complete your holiday, following the the advice of the local public health authority.
8. Can I change my destination if I’m booked to go to France/Malta/Netherlands in the next week or two?
Ask your tour operator, ferry firm or airline. They are struggling with manning customer call centres because of virus furloughs but doing their best amid millions of calls and emails. They will help you with an alternative destination if they can.
9. Why did the Government change advice to France/Malta/Netherlands?
A The Government uses the best scientific data available and that suggests there is a spikes of coronavirus cases in these countries, raising levels above the Government’s limit. Public safety must come first and if the science says Britons faced danger, then they had to act.
10. Who is exempt from the UK 14-day quarantine rules?
A Some key workers are exempt. Other arrivals in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland must give an address where they will self isolate for 14 days or face a £100 fine.
11. My flight to the affected countries has been cancelled and the airline is offering vouchers – must I accept them?
You are entitled to either a full refund or an alternative flight to your destination. Some airlines are offering vouchers, but you are not obliged to accept.
The cash refund is supposed to be paid within seven days of the cancellation notification but given the unprecedented levels of cancellations at present, the process is taking much longer. Persevere though, because the law is clear and on your side.
If you are unable to reach the airline either on the phone or their website, then you can put your complaint in writing and quote Article 5 1(a) and Article 8 1(a) of EC Regulation 261/2004.
If the airline fails to respond or continues to refuse payment, you are entitled to issue small claims court proceedings (for sums under £10,000).
12. What if my flight has not yet been cancelled (ie you’re travelling later in the year)?
It may be better to either reschedule, if this can be done through the same airline without paying a re-booking fee, or wait for the airline to contact you advising you that the flight is cancelled because the pandemic is ongoing.
13. What about ferry, train or Eurotunnel?
A If your trip is cancelled, contact the operator for a full refund or to rearrange the journey if that suits you.
14. Why can’t they only ban certain areas of France?
The Government has chosen to use a blanket approach. France is a big country and the travel trade has been asking for a targeted approach, with holidays allowed to ‘safe’ regions. The same applies to Portugal and the Algarve.
15. When will the quarantines be lifted so I can go on holiday?
Only the Government can answer that question. They will review the situation regularly and advise the public. For updates check the FCO website.
16. I have flights to France/Malta/Netherlands booked for September. What do I do?
If you keep the booking, then you should be able to get all your money back if/when your airline cancels your flight. If you cancel before that you may incur a fee, though you may be able to amend the date of your journey for free if you paid for a flexible ticket.
17. I have a summer hotel or villa booked for the affected countries. What do I do?
This is a more complicated. You can cancel but how much it will cost you depends on the terms and conditions of the party you booked through.
Some websites have options to allow you to cancel for free, though you pay a little more for the room. Or consider contacting the hotel to postpone your booking to a later date, if that suits you.
If the hotel or villa you’re due to stay in is closed by national government Covid-19 advice in that country, you should be able to get your money back.
18. My package holiday to the affected countries has been cancelled. What happens?
A Your tour operator should offer you an alternative holiday or a full refund under the Package Travel Regulations.
19. What if I’ve booked flights and accommodation separately, will I get my money back?
You will need to speak to your airline and accommodation provider separately to see what refunds and alternative travel dates they may be able to offer. You are not entitled to the same level of financial protection as a package holiday. Also, check the small print of your travel insurance policy to see if you can claim.
20. When might it be safe to travel to the affected countries again?
A That’s the ‘how long is a piece of string?’ question (and define what is ‘safe’ in the new normal).
Basically, we are in the hands of the Government’s scientific and medical advisers. ‘Safe’ may not be as safe as things were before the pandemic and travelling may come with a small amount of risk for some time, as long as the virus is circulating.
21. What if my airline or tour operator goes bust?
Package holidays are covered by the Civil Aviation Authority’s ATOL (Air Travel Organiser’s Licence) protection scheme, which ensures customers don’t lose their money if a travel firm collapses.
If an airline goes under, you are unlikely to get a refund from them as they will have ceased trading so you’ll need to see if you are covered by your travel insurance or use section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 if the purchase was between £100 and £30,000 and booked on a credit card.
If you booked on a debit card then you may also be entitled to claim under the Chargeback Scheme from individual banks, but this is time consuming and discretionary.