Cancelling Overseas Trip Due to Coronavirus Risk? Here are Your Passenger Rights

Travel insurance cover flight cancellation but be wary of exclusions
Cancelling Overseas Trip Due to Coronavirus Risk? Here are Your Passenger Rights
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A Gurugram resident recently went to Italy for a family vacation but returned infected with coronavirus. This news has sent overseas travel plans of many into a tizzy.

This man is the latest of the total 29 COVID-19 confirmed cases in India, but he is not the first to have caught the virus from overseas travel.

Schools are being shut down, employers directed to work from home, international flights cancelled and hand sanitizers are perennially out of stock in medical shops. Such is the scare of coronavirus outbreak. Amidst these concerns, is it safe to make overseas vacation plans? Or have you already made bookings and are in a fix whether to cancel or postpone the trip? How much monetary loss will you bear on cancellations and how can travel insurance help?

What if You Want to Cancel your Trip

If you want to cancel your trip to avoid undue risk, chances of you getting your bookings money back are lean. Refund and free rescheduling for flights is available only if the airline cancels.

However, experts say that an adequate insurance policy can come to your rescue. “Customers with a travel policy that covers trip cancellation can claim. However, for this situation, the policy should include government advisory as the cause of cancellation. In case of this clause missing, claims on any other grounds may get rejected,” says Tarun Mathur, co-founder and chief business officer, Policybazaar.com.

This also means that the clause would be valid only if the Indian government or the government of the destination country has issued an advisory against travel in that country. For instance, Saudi government has disallowed non-Saudi residents to enter the country. So, a traveler canceling a flight to Saudi will be able to make a claim. In the case of Italy, no such advisory has been issued by either of the countries so this clause will not apply to travelers going to Italy.

Travel insurance does not cover holiday packages booked through travel companies.

However, some companies have offered to help. Ixigo, an online travel booking platform, is offering a full refund on flight cancellations for select destinations affected by COVID-19. Eligible destinations include China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Iran, Italy, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Spain and the departure date should be on or prior to 31 March 2020.

What if the Flight is Cancelled

As the virus risk rises, Indian airlines are cancelling or curtailing frequency of international flights on those routes that are most affected. While some of the airlines have suspended operations due to advisories from the destination country’s government, others have curtailed frequency due to weak demand.

Vistara has cancelled a total of 54 flights for the month of March, which includes the popular routes of Delhi to Bangkok, Mumbai to Singapore and Delhi to Singapore. While Spicejet has suspended flights between Delhi and Hong Kong till March 28, Indigo has prevented all flights on the China route until further notice.

In a statement, GoAir said it has suspended flights operation to Dammam (Saudi Arabia) after the Saudi government issued advisory disallowing non-Saudi residents to enter the country. Also, the private carrier has curtailed its frequency on Thailand routes of Phuket and Bangkok to one flight from one sector a day.

If you happen to be a passenger of any of the cancelled flights, your travel plans might have been marred but the good news is you will get your money back. All the airlines are either offering a full refund or free rescheduling.  

As for holiday packages, no agency has come forward to cancel packages yet. The onus of cancellation lies with travelers and refund rules vary across different agencies. However, agencies are claiming to help travelers to postpone their travel date and make re-bookings accordingly.

Should You Take an Overseas Trip

The tourism industry has been hit hard due to drop in travel, both business and leisure, as a result of the coronavirus outbreak globally.

International Air Transport Association (IATA), the global trade association of airlines, said that the airline industry could lose up to $113 bn in revenues this year depending on the severity of the spread. Tour companies are also suffering from weak demand.

“We have received about 35 per cent of cancellation queries from travelers planning their trips to foreign locations during the upcoming holiday season,” says Sabina Chopra, Co-Founder and COO, Corporate Travel & Head Industry Relations, Yatra.com.

In this case, airlines and the overall hospitality industry is leaving no stone unturned to lure tourists. Airlines have slashed fares sharply and hotels are doling out deep discounts. “Airfares to Italy and Southeast Asian countries have dropped by 20-30 per cent,” said Chopra.

Delhi to Rome flight in first week of March is costing INR 43,000 per head, as compared to upwards of INR 55,000 during the same time last year. Similarly, return airfare of Delhi to Bangkok in March last week is INR 13,000. Typically, fares around these dates are high at INR 18,000-20,000 due to peak season.

As tempting as the discounts may seem, it is strongly advised to avoid destinations with high COVID-19 cases. In fact, travelers should avoid overseas destinations completely this year to avoid contact with foreign nationals from affected countries and look at domestic destinations instead.

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