Making Cents: Know your rights when travelling in a time of coronavirus

Making Cents: Know your rights when travelling in a time of coronavirus

As coronavirus continues to dominate world news and Ireland waits to see how extensively it spreads here, plans for travel over the next few months looks uncertain.

With that in mind, the European Consumer Centre Ireland has provided guidance to travellers. It wants people to be clear on what consumer rights they have during this covid-19 emergency. Advice differs depending on a number of factors, including method of booking, method of travel and the official guidance in place for the area to which people intend to travel. Therefore, it is stronglyadvised to look at the latestofficial advice ahead of making anydecisions on trips which are already booked and ahead of booking anything in the near future.

“Some Irish and European consumers have been forced to cancel trips or chosen not to travel onaccount of the coronavirus emergency,” the centre says.

“As a result, they are concerned about their ability to recover anyor all of the costs of missed journeys, especially when emergency andrestriction measures are not uniform across the different jurisdictions of the European Union and beyond.

“The European ConsumerCentre Ireland wishes to advise Irish travellers on the following consumer rights issues arising from the coronavirus situation in the 27 countriesof the EU, that also apply to the UK, Norway and Iceland. “As a general rule, a natural occurrence like the coronavirus that causes travel disruption is considered ‘extraordinary circumstances’ and is outside the control of a transport provider, such as an airline. Consequently, compensation would not normally apply.”

However, for air travel, passengers on cancelled flights may be entitled to have their journey rerouted to the final holiday destination or refunded. If a land or sea journey is cancelled, passengers are entitled to rerouting or a refund should be offered.

Many Irish people will have booked package holidays for areas that have seen coronavirus cases, which include northern Italy and Tenerife.

“For package holidays involving a journey to or a stay in areas affected by travel restrictions due to covid-19, consumers may have the right to terminate the booking contract without paying a termination fee,” the centre says but says that this is only the case in extreme circumstances.

What is happening in some cases is travellers are choosing not to make the trip out of health concerns, but the centre warns that in this situation the consumer is not automatically protected and should read the fine print of their booking agreements before making any decisions.

“If consumers cancel their holiday to an area where no emergency measures were declared of their own accord, the holiday cancellation is, of course, strictly within the limits of the booking contract,” it says.

“This means, if payments made to secure the booking are partly or wholly refundable, the amount of the refund will be dictated by the usual applicable terms and conditions.”

In this instance, passengers should make sure they are refunded their airport taxes at a minimum.

“Where passengers cancel their flights voluntarily, they are entitled to a full refund of airport taxes as the cancellation takes place before the flight check-in operation,” the centre says.

So far so clear, but what if you want to book for a holiday in the near future? “The European Consumer Centre Ireland currently recommends that before booking a trip to or near areas affected by the coronavirus, consumers should first check the website of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which currently recommends avoiding travel to selected regions affected by the coronavirus where Italian authorities have imposed restrictions,” the centre says.

The centre urges consumers to pay special attention to communications from the World Health Organisation, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, Ireland’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

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