The spread of the COVID-19 virus in parts of Europe led some countries to adopt local emergency measures to contain the disease.
These resulted in restrictions of national and international travel in the most affected areas, such as northern Italy.
Over the last few days, some Irish and European consumers have been forced to cancel trips or chosen not to travel on account of the Coronavirus emergency.
As a result, they are concerned about their ability to recover any or all of the costs of missed journeys, especially when emergency and restriction measures are not uniform across the different jurisdictions of the European Union and beyond.
The European Consumer Centre Ireland (ECC Ireland) wishes to advise Irish travellers on the following consumer rights issues arising from the Coronavirus situation in the 27 countries of the European Union, that also apply to the United Kingdom, 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.
For air travel, according to EU Regulation EC 261/2004, passengers on cancelled flights may be entitled to having their journey either re-routed to the final holiday destination or refunded.
Read more about air travel rights and regulations on the ECC Ireland website here.
If a land or sea journey is cancelled, passengers are entitled to re-routing or a refund should be offered.
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. This applies only to unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances that may pose a significant risk to human health and prevent consumers from making use of or reaching the destination of their booked holiday, as agreed in the travel contract.
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. This means that, 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 addition, 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.
In relation to international travel from Ireland over the next while, ECC 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 (DFA), which currently recommends avoiding travel to selected regions affected by the Coronavirus where Italian authorities have imposed restrictions. An up-to-date list of affected localities can be found on the DFA site here, based on information from the Italian Department of Health.
ECC Ireland urges consumers to pay special attention to communications on the Coronavirus emergency and the related travel advice from the following relevant authorities:
World Health Organisation
European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control
Health Protection Surveillance Centre
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade