Holidaymakers told not to travel by the NHS ‘test and trace’ service could be left out of pocket by “thousands of pounds”, it is claimed today.
Which? asked 23 operators and airlines to confirm their policy for customers who have holidays booked but are then told to self-isolate by the NHS coronavirus tracking system, and found that only a handful said that they would let the customer reschedule.
When Foreign Office advice against all but essential travel rule is relaxed, which will occur with the confirmation of ‘air bridges’ to selected countries, the NHS’s ‘test and trace’ system is regarded as vital to avoid a second wave of the disease.
It will mean that anyone who has been in close proximity to someone who has tested positive for Covid-19 may be asked to self-isolate for 14 days – leaving those with holiday plans no longer able to travel.
When the consumer champion asked holidays firms whether customers would be able to receive a refund or rebook at a later date for no extra cost, “not all operators were forthcoming”.
Some, including Lastminute.com and easyJet holidays, did not respond to Which?’s inquiry.
Travel Republic and Loveholidays said that customers should check their insurance policies and would be subject to their usual cancellation terms, which would only provide free amendments if their partnering suppliers allow.
Expedia also suggested that rebooking would only be available if this is already part of the hotel or airline’s policy but added that they ‘would do their best to help’.
On the Beach and Kuoni did not confirm their policies but told Which? they would continue to support customers where possible.
Which? found that ten airlines and holiday providers would allow customers who were told to self-isolate to rebook – Air France/KLM, British Airways, Emirates, Explore, Jet2 and Jet2 Holidays, Riviera, Tui, Ryanair, Saga and Virgin Atlantic.
Explore said it would also offer at least a partial refund in some circumstances.
Many of the operators unable to guarantee customers the option to reschedule, including Travel Republic and Loveholidays, said they would need to check their travel insurance.
But the Association of British Insurers said that “self-isolation may not be covered if there are Covid-19 exclusions in policies” which almost all travel insurance policies sold since the lockdown began now have.
The Department of Health and Social Care, which is responsible for track and trace, warned that travellers could also be asked to delay their return home if they have potentially been exposed to someone infected with Covid-19.
Which? voiced concern that as self-isolation for those contacted by the test and trace system is voluntary, “there is the risk that customers who have paid large amounts and can not rebook a trip might decide to travel anyway”.
This could potentially put everyone they come into contact with, including fellow passengers, cabin crew and people at their destination, at risk.
Holiday firms were urged to show flexibility to customers if they want to regain consumer confidence and get holidaymakers booking again, safe in the knowledge that they can amend or reschedule if and when they need to.
Which? Travel editor Rory Boland said: “For trust in the travel industry to be restored, firms must be willing to show their customers more flexibility. It is not good enough to state that usual terms apply and deny people the chance to rebook if they are told to self-isolate.
“It is important that anyone told to stay home by the NHS follows these instructions, and those with travel plans will need to speak to their travel operator and work out what their options are.
“People looking to book soon will also need to pay attention to terms and conditions or choose an operator that will let them reschedule their holiday if they need to, without leaving them out of pocket.”
The Department of Health said: “We will provide more detail on overseas travel at the appropriate time.”
It also said that if anyone receives a message telling then to self-isolate while on holiday, they would be expected to extend their trip and stay where they are – and they might be eligible for an emergency loan to cover essential living expenses. Only those within two metres of a passenger on an aircraft who tests positive for COVID-19 would be asked to self-isolate – not the rest of the passengers or crew.
The Association of British Insurers (ABI) said: “Self-isolation may not be covered going forward if there are Covid-19 exclusions in policies but we would expect insurers to pay out for when Covid-19 isn’t excluded.”
An easyJet holidays spokesperson said: “Our absolute intention has been and will continue to be to adapt our standard booking conditions and help be as flexible as possible for easyJet holidays customers.
“In the unfortunate scenario where customers can no longer travel due to the NHS ‘test and trace’ requirements, we’d ask customers to get in touch with us as soon as possible and, on top of the flexibility we already offer, we would be happy to support with organising easyJet holidays credit for future travel.”
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