The COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic is an unprecedented situation for travel and travelers. At Lonely Planet, that means it’s business as unusual for us. But keeping doing what we always do – focusing on the needs of the traveler – means we’re being asked a lot of questions every day. Tom Hall, travel writer and our VP of Experience, offers some answers. Got any more questions? Post them on social media and we’ll get to them when we can.
Giving advice and guidance in the current context can fall into a few broad categories. The immediate four to six week period is the easiest to advice on. If you have travel booked your options are relatively straightforward; where your situation is covered by government or WHO guidelines you should follow these. Rearranging travel is generally possible to any affected areas and in many cases to unaffected areas. Of course, the areas affected are changing quickly.
Looking further into the future quickly complicates the picture. We may see further restrictions imposed and more changes to booking conditions from airlines and other travel companies. Equally, we will hopefully see some destinations start to recover and others not be affected by the virus altogether.
Should I be traveling right now?
At this moment we are realistic: now is not the right time to travel to and from many places. All travelers should follow government advice and as a further measure consider if their journey is responsible and essential in the current context.
Read more: Should I cancel my travel plans in light of the coronavirus outbreak?
Restrictions continue to be put in place worldwide. The US State Department issued guidance advising Americans to reconsider overseas travel. All travel has been suspended for non-US nationals coming from 26 European countries to the US for the next 30 days including if you transit through the Schengen zone. This will be in effect for Ireland and the UK beginning Monday 16 March. In addition to this, India announced that from 14 March it has suspended all visas, effectively halting inbound travel to the world’s second most populous country. Every day is bringing fresh restrictions. Several European countries have effectively closed their borders and others have closed facilities for travelers such as restaurants, bars and ski resorts. In addition to this there remain restrictions in place for travel to China, Italy and Iran. In short, the picture is rapidly evolving to make travel harder.
Read more: The US has announced a ban on travellers from Europe - so what does that mean?
For specific advice check with your government - the US Department of Consular Affairs, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs.
Our partners at Intrepid Travel are suspending tours departing between 16 March and 30 April. Find more information here.
What if I have booked travel to a destination that is not currently on the restricted list of the country I live in?
Most - but not all - carriers are offering more flexible options for changing tickets that have already been purchased. Change fees are, in many cases, being waived for specific time periods. Flexibility varies from carrier to carrier - some continue to only offer rebooking and/or refunds on flights to and from China, Italy and India and on any cancelled flights. Others are offering more options for this month or into early April.
While many carriers in Europe and elsewhere have cancelled a substantial proportion of flights, many others are still operating. Unfortunately, unless advice changes to rule out travel to your specific destination and your airline is not offering greater flexibility, you will generally not be able to get a refund if you decide not to travel. Travel insurance will not cover any disinclination to travel, even in the current circumstances.
As each day passes however, these change procedures are becoming more flexible so it makes sense to start by contacting your airline. This can be a big challenge at present as call centres are overwhelmed by the volume of calls, so make changes online where possible and consider postponing any decision that need not be made now. If are still struggling to get through aim of off-peak hours to call. Social media-based customer service is another option to try.
Should I be booking travel right now?
It depends. Clearly if you have not already booked to travel then you are in a stronger position than if you have. But it is also worth considering doing so now for later in the year. Many airlines are offering no change fees on all flights booked until 31 March. This would give a very long window, up to February 2021 - though check in individual cases - to complete travel. We can be no more confident than anyone else about when the situation will improve, but this should give as much flexibility as needed to complete journeys that you know you’re going to want to take.
For travel in the peak northern hemisphere months of July and August travelers can expect plenty of encouragement to book when the time is right to do so. Tour operators will be expecting a wait and see approach from customers, so will be preparing incentives for the point at which the immediate crisis has passed.
Is my travel insurance valid?
While you should always have a travel insurance policy it is only worth having if it covers you for the problems you may encounter. If you have a policy then you should check the coverage and make sure you are covered. Note the exclusions and any obligations on you: in particular travelers should not travel to a destination that has travel restrictions in place, even if it is possible to do so. Many policies sold since late January are unlikely to cover COVID-19 related disruption to any destinations. In short, check what you’re covered for whether you have an existing or new policy. In some cases you are required to purchase an add-on covering travel disruption and any consequential losses.
This is also the point to look closely at any travel insurance included with your credit card or as a benefit of membership to an organisation that you may be relying on and consider beefing it up to a comprehensive stand-alone policy.
Do keep in mind it is the travel company you book with who has your money not the insurer. If you are due a refund, ask for 100% of your money back from them including any deposit. In the event of you cancelling your trip entirely and having no immediate plans to travel you can generally get a refund on insurance policies.
I have booked a holiday for travel later in the year and my operator is refusing to allow me to cancel. What do I do?
While this is a stressful time for customers and travel firms will be offering flexibility in the immediate future, they will also be planning for business operations to recover. Therefore they are unlikely to relax their policies for the summer if they do not have to. So if your travel is beyond mid-April in the majority of cases you should continue with your plans or lose any deposit paid. Everyone in the travel industry is aiming to get back to normal as soon as possible and hoping to have a normal northern hemisphere summer season.
What advice would you give if you have a connecting flight through a destination which travel is advised against but your final destination doesn't have a travel warning?
The best advice I can give at this point is to make swift plans to complete your journey. There is no one answer covering all flight connection options and the exact procedures will vary depending on where you are flying through and where your final destination is.
The key point, and apologies if this is stating the obvious, is whether the flights you are booked on are operating. If they are, then allow extra time to get through any revised procedures and expect to have to comply with any restrictions when you arrive at your final destination. You can also reasonably ask to be rerouted through another transit point, but your options may be limited. Getting a refund on your flight and rebooking another route may also be an option in some circumstances.
Key transit hubs such as Dubai and Doha continue to operate in the usual fashion, even while entry into the UAE and Qatar is prohibited for foreign nationals.
What you can expect in most airports regardless of location is at least some enhanced medical procedures - usually in the form of thermal screening - whether you are transiting without entering the host country or having to clear immigration to get on your connecting flight. There may also be additional screening when leaving. Some airports, like those in Ireland and the UK however are not screening arriving passengers.
What about land-based travel?
It’s difficult to answer this on a global level, but in Europe rail services are affected by travel restrictions to individual countries. In other cases, such as Eurostar services from the UK to France, Belgium and the Netherlands, services are operating as normal. Where services are affected bookings can be amended via train operating companies. Seat61 is the best site for regular updates.
If you are planning on entering a country overland you should consult up to date travel advice for that country at the links above and be prepared for extra checks and delays at all borders. In some cases borders may be closed at short notice.
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