Travelling during the coronavirus crisis: What are your rights?
Many people may have been tempted over the summer to book a last-minute holiday, in the hopes that the second wave of the coronavirus wouldn’t hit until much later in the year. However, with infections on the rise again in countries across Europe, it’s a good idea to know what your rights are when it comes to travelling during the so-called coronavirus crisis.
Do your research
Possibly the most important part of prepping for any holiday at the moment is to make sure you do your research - not just where to stay and what sights to see, but also what the Dutch government travel advice is for the country or area you’re planning on visiting.
The government has a colour-coded system in place for countries around the world should the occasion arise where it would be wise to discourage travel to any specific destination. Unsurprisingly, this system is now also being used for travel advice and coronavirus outbreaks.
Any potential security and health risks are split into four separate categories:
- Green: no security risks
- Yellow: caution, safety risks
- Orange: only necessary trips
- Red: do not travel
When it comes to the coronavirus, this code also hints at coronavirus measures in place that may impact your travel:
- Green: no coronavirus measures in place
- Yellow: limited coronavirus measures in place
- Orange: daily life is impacted by coronavirus (measures), an entry ban may apply
- Red: the country / area has been completely closed off, there are no opportunities for entry or exit
Check the government website
If you’re unsure whether your destination is a designated risk area, or if you’ll be expected to quarantine when you arrive back in the Netherlands, then you can find all of the advice on the government website.
While this advice is in place, it is not binding. Ultimately, you will be held responsible for any travel decisions you make.
Changes to travel advice
If you have decided to book a trip, and have picked your destination thinking it was coded yellow and safe, then don’t get too comfortable because the travel advice can always change. The coronavirus situation in countries around the world is unpredictable, and so any advice that is in place now could change within only a few days.
If the advice goes from code yellow to code orange, then the Consumers’ Association (ConsumentenBond) advises you to get in touch with the tour operator to find out whether the trip will continue as planned, or if it will be adjusted or cancelled. In principle, if you have booked a package holiday, you should be able to cancel this yourself - just write an email or letter to the travel provider.
If the advice changes to code red, then the travel company or airline should cancel the trip themselves. Should this happen, you will get your money back. Alternatively, you could contact the company and decide to change or rebook your trip instead.
Travel insurance policies
Travel to a yellow-coded country is likely to be covered by travel insurance. However, if you decide to go to an orange- or red-coded country, you are not guaranteed coverage - it will depend on the insurance company, so make sure you double-check their policy.
If the travel advice changes before you depart, then the Dutch Association of Insurers advises that you stay in the Netherlands and do not go on your holiday. If the travel advice changes only after you have already arrived at your destination, you should still be covered by your travel insurance, so long as you make sure to return home as soon as possible.
If the airline cancels your flight, you are entitled to a refund of the ticket price. During the coronavirus crisis, a voucher has typically been offered instead of a refund. Instead of a refund or a voucher, you could trade your ticket for a spot on a different flight.
If the airline cancels the flight to a destination where there is no negative travel advice, you are entitled to a full refund and potentially compensation for loss of time. If you have booked your flights via a go-between website, such as Booking.com, then you need to contact that company as they are responsible for handling the consequences of the cancellation.
If you have been offered a voucher, then the Consumer’s Association advises that you accept the offer, considering the current financial climate. However, they do note that as a customer you are always entitled to ask for a refund instead.
If you’ve booked a holiday with a tour operator, they can also cancel or reschedule to trip due to the coronavirus. You do not have to accept the rescheduled dates, and then you are entitled to a refund of the travel sum.
Cancelling travel insurance
If you had taken out short-term travel insurance for your upcoming trip which has now been cancelled because of the coronavirus, you can also cancel your insurance and request a refund. This only applies to short-term coverage, and not to any cancellation coverage.
Cancelling your trip
The law says you can cancel a package holiday free of charge if you can demonstrate that the travel destination is unsafe or poses a threat to your health, but there must be unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances with significant consequences for the trip. If there are, you can request a refund. You will likely have to pay cancellation costs.
If you haven’t booked a package holiday, and have booked accommodation and the flight yourself, the conditions are depending on the company / airline and how you booked, so double-check their cancellation policy. For example, Expedia and Booking.com allow you to cancel accommodation free of charge until the day of arrival.
If you choose to cancel your trip because you feel unsafe, you are not entitled to compensation.
If your destination is locked down because of the coronavirus, meaning planes and travellers are not allowed entry, you can cancel your trip free of charge, or the trip will be cancelled and you will be refunded.
If there is an entry ban in place for travellers, such as the one between the United States and many EU countries, it is likely that you will have to cover any costs yourself. The General Dutch Association of Travel Agencies (ANVR) says that, if you have booked a package deal, the tour operator may argue that they are able to fulfil their duties (flights, accommodation, etc), and that the responsibility lies with the traveller. However, if you can prove that the destination is unsafe (i.e. with negative travel advice), you may be able to cancel free of charge.
Airlines will likely offer a voucher if you are unable to travel because of an entry ban, however, it is unlikely you will receive a refund or a voucher for any accommodation you have booked. Extensive cancellation insurance may offer coverage in the case of an entry ban.
Unable to travel due to illness
As is generally the case with a pandemic, it is possible that you become unexpectedly sick before you are due to travel. If this happens to you, the advice is that you stay where you are and do not travel. If you are worried about this possibility, the advice is to take out cancellation insurance, as this will ensure you are able to cancel any travel plans in case of illness.
If you are refused boarding at the gate of your flight - which airlines withhold the right to do - you will generally not be covered by cancellation insurance, but may be covered by travel insurance, depending on your specific case. So, contact the insurance company or airline for more information.
If you have tested positive for coronavirus, or if you are too ill to travel, the costs will be covered by travel or cancellation insurance - but you might need a note from your doctor as proof.
Becoming ill while on holiday
The ANVR has said it will not offer compensation if you are forced to extend your holiday because of quarantine. The traveller is therefore required to cover the cost of the extended stay. The additional costs may, in some cases, be covered by travel insurance, but even then only up to a certain maximum.
Travellers from the Netherlands who cannot return home because of the coronavirus pandemic will receive support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Dutch Association of Insurers.
Not sure what to do?
It's no secret that the coronavirus pandemic means that we are all currently living in unprecedented times. This makes it difficult to understand the rules and rights in this strange time, but also means travel companies have had to swiftly adjust their regulations to adapt to the current climate. If you are unsure about your travel plans, or your rights, then you should get in touch with the airline, tour operator, or accommodation that you have booked with. If you're unsure about a voucher or compensation offer that has been made, and worry that you are being treated unfairly, then get in touch with the Consumers' Association.