The coronavirus has reached many European countries, e. g. Italy, France, Austria, Spain and Germany. Due to the increasing number of infections, many travellers are uncertain whether they should start their holidays or whether they should stay at home. But is it possible to cancel the holidays which have already been booked without paying any cancellation charges?
This question is not that easy to be answered as it always depends on the fact whether you have booked a package travel or an individual trip.
Can I cancel my package travel arrangement?
That depends on the fact whether your Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Health has issued a travel warning for your holiday destination or for your holiday country. A travel warning is a strong indication that there are exceptional circumstance that give the right to cancel the travel. In case of doubt: contact your European Consumer Centre. At the moment, there are warnings for several regions in Italy and China. As the information could change daily, check the website of your Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Health.
In principle, you can only cancel the package tour without cancellation fees if the travel warning was issued prior to the start of your holidays, but after the booking. You can invoke unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances or force majeure.
If you are not able to visit specific tourist attractions or sights, which are essential features of your holidays or if the execution of the package trip has been changed significantly this could also be a reason to withdraw from the package travel contract without paying any charges. But this depends on the individual case. On these conditions: Please contact your tour operator immediately.
If the package travel was cancelled by the tour operator himself, you have the right to get your money back.
Which rights do apply to individual travellers?
In the case of individual travel bookings, e. g. a separately booked flight and a separately booked hotel, the cancellation of the flight or the hotel is only possible as a gesture of goodwill by the airline or the hotel. Travellers should contact the airline or the hotel immediately and ask for the conditions of cancellation. At the moment, many airlines provide the possibility to cancel or rebook flights without paying cancellation charges. If your flight was cancelled by the airline they either must refund the money or they must provide another means of transport if you still want to travel to this area.
Being a package or an individual traveller: Do I have the right to get a compensation from the airline?
Under special conditions you are entitled to get compensation from the airline when your flight was cancelled. Ask your European Consumer Center (http://www.ecccyprus.gov.cy/) for help. An example: You will not receive compensation when the airlines cancels the flight 14 days prior to departure – as they currently often do.
Furthermore, you are not entitled to obtain compensation in case of exceptional circumstances. The circumstances are exceptional if they could not have been avoided even if the airline had taken all reasonable measures to carry out the flight. An airline certainly has no influence on an epidemic and its spread. However, the fact that the virus has spread all over the world does not mean that the airline can generally apologize for every failure with the Corona Virus.
Conditions at the holiday destination are crucial for the existence of exceptional circumstances. Unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances must occur at the destination or in its immediate neighbourhood, which significantly impair the execution of the flight or the transportation of people to the destination. This should be assumed when certain areas are already cordoned off. But as further you are away from these places, the less you can assume that there are unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances at the holiday destination itself. Therefore, all cases must be decided individually. On condition that the airline cancels the flight based on the fact that it cannot be executed economically due to the Corona crisis, these are no unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances to rely on. In this case, the traveller has the right to get a refund.
Travel warnings from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Health are a strong indication that there are exceptional circumstance but do not replace a case by case analysis. At the moment, there is a partial travel warning regarding the province of Hubei / China/Italy/Iran and Democracy of Korea. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Health advises only not to undertake unnecessary trips to other parts of the country.
I have taken out a travel cancellation insurance. Do they pay?
That depends on the conditions of the contract. Usually they pay in cases of unforeseeable illness, accidents or serious injuries of the insured person. The pure fear to get sick is usually not covered by these products.