The imposition of tier 4 restrictions on London and the south-east of England, the coronavirus lockdowns in Wales and Scotland, and the closure of international borders have thrown the Christmas plans of millions of people into chaos. With travel arrangements in turmoil, who is in line for a refund and who is likely to be disappointed?
I live in a tier 4 area but was due to fly to Scotland on Wednesday. Can I get a refund?
The airlines are only obliged to refund customers if they cancel the flight. The fact you cannot travel by law makes no difference as key workers will still expect to travel and therefore flights are still available. Ryanair is offering those in lockdown and unable to travel between now and Christmas Eve a fee-free switch to a new flight – but only until 15 March 2021. British Airways is offering vouchers to those who decide they no longer wish to travel. EasyJet customers are being offered refunds if the new restrictions mean it would be illegal to take a flight.
However, if your airline is refusing a refund, rebooking option or voucher, it is worth notifying the airline that you cannot travel because of the restrictions and that you would like a refund or voucher. This is because the Competition and Markets Authority is investigating whether airlines should be forced to reimburse those in this position. You could find you receive a payout later.
I had planned to take the train/coach to see family – can I get a refund?
If you have had to cancel a rail or coach journey that started or ended in England between 23-27 December you may be able to get a refund, the government has said. This only applies to journeys booked on or after 24 November, when the now-scrapped Christmas travel window was announced. Operators will be able to issue refunds immediately and passengers are advised to check the website of their operator for how to claim.
For those who booked trips before 24 November, the train company concerned may give you a voucher instead. For example, LNER, which operates the east coast London to Scotland route, is offering vouchers to those with advance tickets – which are not usually refundable. It has waived the £10 administration fee and says it may offer e-vouchers for journeys customers are no longer able to make because of the changes to Covid-19 restrictions.
I was due to fly to a country that has banned UK flights, surely I will be refunded?
Yes, you will and the process has already started. EasyJet has been offering those with flights booked to Amsterdam in the coming days the option to rebook to a later flight or receive a voucher or refund. As the number of countries adding Britain to a no-fly list expands, more people will be getting emails from airlines. And the advice if you no longer want to travel is to opt for a refund.
I was going to fly to a destination that is still open but live in a tier 4 area that bans international travel – can I get a refund?
Technically, you are not entitled to one. Over the weekend Virgin Atlantic and BA said refunds were permitted for cancelled flights only. Both airlines are offering passengers the option to switch their booking to a new date – until 31 December 2022 in Virgin’s case. Most of the long-haul airlines have adopted the rebook/voucher approach.
For those with bookings on a low-cost, short-haul flight, it is not looking so good. Most are sticking to their standard terms and conditions if the flight operates as scheduled. On Monday, Ryanair said it was allowing passengers who were booked on to international flights until 24 December a free move of their booking to any date up to 15March – which may or may not be worth taking.
I am scheduled to return to the UK this week; will my flight run?
There is nothing to stop people entering the UK and flights are still proceeding. Schedules had already been hugely curtailed, however. If you have a flight booked for this week, check the “my bookings” section of the airline website, and monitor your emails closely.
What about Eurostar?
On Monday, the company was operating trains from Paris to London only. All of its trains out of London were cancelled and passengers entitled to a refund. The company plans to resume services leaving London to France on Wednesday 23 December. Whether that happens will depend on whether or not the ban on Britons entering the country is extended.
My package holiday was due to leave on 30 December – can I still take it and what is the refund policy if not?
If you are scheduled to fly to a destination that is not on the list of places that the Foreign Office is advising against – and the country in question is accepting arrivals from the UK – then, technically, the trip can still go ahead. However, if any one of those factors changes between now and the departure date, the tour operator will have to cancel and the passenger will be entitled to a full refund.
Britain’s biggest holiday company, Tui, has cancelled all flights departing from Luton airport from 20-30 December. Most new year ski trips are off, too, and full refunds are due.
However, if you live in an area of the country in which foreign travel is banned – such as those in England’s tier 4 or Scotland and Wales – but the trip is going ahead, you are relying on the tour operator’s goodwill. It may allow you to cancel and to accept a voucher or rebooking for next year but it is not obliged to. Note, the Foreign Office advice against all but essential travel will call a halt to most trips – as will the increasing number of countries banning the arrival of people from the UK. For example, those hoping to visit Madeira in the next few days can no longer fly after Portugal imposed such a ban.
My flight was scheduled to travel from Heathrow, which is in tier 4. Can I still jet off?
If you live in an area in which foreign travel is allowed, you are allowed to head to Heathrow, even though it is in tier 4.