Can I Fly? All your Coronavirus-related travel questions, answered
Ironically, foreign travel is one of the few things that doesn't feel up in the air at the moment. In a bid to stop the spread of the Coronavirus, the UK government has strongly advised against all non-essential flights for at least 30 days, and many other countries have done the same. So unless you want to risk getting stranded and/or quarantined on foreign soil, it's best to follow their advice.
Of course, that's resulted in a lot of cancelled holidays and confusion. People have a lot of questions, and rightly so. That's why we got in contact with Jack Sheldon, the travel expert and founder of flight recommender Jack's Flight Club, to get an overview of the situation. Whether you're looking to book a holiday or want to know how to get your money back for a cancelled flight, this is what you need to know.
Should I be looking to book a new trip now?
It is not recommended that you travel unnecessarily in the coming months as it increases the risk of contracting, then unknowingly spreading, the virus. You should follow your local government and medical official’s advice and wait for a clear signal that it’s safe to travel.
It’s impossible to predict how long it will take for the virus to subside to safe levels, however, there is a greater chance that travel will be possible later in the year. As some airlines are at a higher risk of going into administration due to the downturn caused by the virus, it’s safer to book with a credit card for extra protection if possible and hold off booking any accommodation or tours that can’t be cancelled with a refund for as long as possible.
What areas are being affected by Covid-19?
So far, 145+ countries have reported at least 1 case of Covid-19.
Due to how quickly the location of new cases can change, the number of affected locations is constantly changing. We always recommend regularly checking the WHO updates and staying in touch with local government sources of information.
Should I be booking any flights at all, even at the back-end of the year?
I wish we had a crystal ball for these moments, especially in these times when flight schedules are constantly changing, but the truth is no one can give a 100 per cent prediction what travel will be like after this is over. That said, we do know that the quarantine (and travel restrictions) will end and we will be able to safely travel again.
While I wouldn’t suggest booking a flight travelling in the first half of the year, travel after July this year has the highest likelihood of being able to offer safe travel dates, including unheard of fares for flights over the winter holidays. Plus, many airlines are offering tasty deals as incentives to travellers open to the small risk in booking, along with some great fee-free change policies and cancellations with many companies.
Importantly, I would recommend avoiding making other inflexible plans, such as booking non-refundable accommodation or tours.
How can I make sure I’m protected financially?
No matter what travel risks are present, even when we aren’t experiencing a pandemic, I always recommend travellers to book with travel insurance. This protects you under most common travel interruptions, but you can also purchase additional protections like disruption coverage, which will offer you protection should you become sick, certain natural disasters, and other unexpected circumstances. See a full guide on how to choose an insurance provider and plan here.
It’s also important to make sure you understand what is covered under your policy, too. These days many travel insurance providers are not offering pandemic coverage on many bookings, for example, because of the high demand and likelihood travel plans will be affected. Definitely read over your policy for coverage before considering yourself covered entirely and reach out to the insurance company for more details if you aren’t sure.
One other option you can use is to book directly with the airline rather than with an online travel agent (OTA). We do usually recommend booking with an OTA as they offer the lowest price, but this is only the best option when you are sure that your travel dates won’t change in the future. Booking with the airline will offer you special perks, especially in these times as most airlines are extending their cancellation and change policies to allow for very forgiving rebooking terms. And, as always, booking with a credit card will also provide that extra bit of protection with chargebacks should the worst happen and your airline goes into administration before you fly.
Is it safe to book flights to countries where there are no coronavirus cases yet?
I’d like to say that some areas will not be affected by Covid-19, but at this point we need to assume that all areas in the world will eventually have cases, especially if we continue to travel. Your best option right now is to hunker down, follow your countries travel recommendations and make plans for when it will be more safe to travel in the future.
If I fly somewhere, and that country then goes into lockdown, am I stuck there?
We are actually seeing how this will play out currently. The UK has recommended against all non-essential travel, while many UK residents are still abroad and now have to consider travelling back immediately. While many flights have been cancelled and travel from certain areas have become more difficult to book, we’re also seeing some airlines (like easyJet and Qantas) specifically offer repatriation flights, bookable for those only looking for homebound travel.
Should you find yourself in the situation when a flight out is not possible, some government authorities are recommending shelter in place, such as some areas of the US. When this is recommended, it’s best to not try and book flights or find land-travel, but try and weather it out where you are as best as possible. Always contact your local embassy or consulate for more directions if you find yourself in this situation.
What happens if I’ve booked a flight for later in the year and, in the meantime, that airline collapses?
This is always a risk no matter when you’re booking, such as when Thomas Cook went out into administration unexpectedly last year. In these situations, booking with a credit card is the best case scenario as you’d report this to your bank and they would then work to recover your money for a service not rendered. If you didn’t book with a credit card, you will still be able to apply for a refund or rebook with an affiliated airline, but travel plans will likely be interrupted. We know these situations are stressful, but emailing and staying in touch with the airline will help for a faster resolution.
The information in this story is accurate as of the publication date. While we are attempting to keep our content as up-to-date as possible, the situation surrounding the coronavirus pandemic continues to develop rapidly, so it's possible that some information and recommendations may have changed since publishing. For any concerns and latest advice, visit the World Health Organisation.