Covid travel: restrictions, flight delays and cancellations, and your passenger rights
Many countries are restricting travel to slow down the spread of the new coronavirus, which causes a respiratory disease called Covid-19. This has led to mass cancellations of flights around the globe to help combat its transmission. Though these canceled flights are not eligible for compensation, as an air passenger, you still have rights. Read on to find out more.
Not sure if your flight was canceled due to the coronavirus? Check your flight below.
Current flight requirements for Covid-19
In order to make flying during Covid-19 as safe as possible and to slow the spread of the coronavirus, many airlines and travel destinations have introduced a wide range of safety measures, or Covid flight requirements.
You should always check the latest travel advice available from your airline and travel destination. Resources like IATA’s regulations map can also help. The following requirements are most common:
Covid testing for international flights
If you’re flying into a country that requires you to present a negative coronavirus result,
many airlines do require a Covid test before they let you board. You usually have the choice to do it in advance before you go to the airport. Just be sure how recent the test must be, and whether they are counting from departure or arrival time! Some destinations and airlines specify the more reliable PCR test. These take a little longer, so make sure you leave enough time to get your result back.
Covid testing for domestic flights
In the USA, there’s a little more confusion whether airlines require a covid test for domestic flights. The CDC recommends that unvaccinated passengers get tested before flying, if they must travel, but it is not a federal law. States can mandate testing, so do check to make sure. For example Hawaii requires a negative Covid-19 test from unvaccinated visitors.
Wearing a mask at the airport and on the plane
Most airlines and airports require you to wear your mask at all times, as well as abide by local social distancing regulations. Check if there are any specific requirements, for example, if you must wear a medical-grade face mask.
Proof of vaccination or Covid-19 recovery
In some countries there are fewer restrictions if you can show you’re fully vaccinated, and some also do the same if you’ve recently recovered from the virus. Check exactly what the requirements are, and bear in mind that most vaccinations aren’t considered complete until 2 weeks after your final dose.
Denied boarding due to Covid flight restrictions — what are your rights?
Additional flight requirements due to Covid-19 do make both international and domestic travel more difficult for passengers. However, it is the responsibility of the passenger to check travel and flight restrictions due to coronavirus, and to ensure they abide by them.
Airlines are strictly enforcing rules, both to keep passengers safe while onboard, and to avoid transporting passengers who don’t meet the entry requirements of their travel destination. If you do not follow Covid flight requirements, e.g. you fail to present a negative Covid test, proof of vaccination, or refuse to wear a mask when requested, you are likely to be denied boarding.
The ongoing Coronavirus pandemic restrictions affecting travelers, e.g. travel restrictions, lockdowns, and quarantine zones, are considered an extraordinary circumstance by passenger rights regulations. The Covid travel restrictions enforced by public authorities are there to make travel as safe as possible for both passengers and citizens. Consequently if you don’t follow the rules, you are not entitled to compensation or a refund for your missed flight. In fact, some countries are even saying they will fine passengers if they arrive without following restrictions.
What happens after a coronavirus flight cancellation?
If your flight has been canceled due to coronavirus you are entitled to:
A full refund of your ticket
An alternative flight (once the flights are rescheduled).
As the coronavirus situation is classified as an extraordinary circumstance, it is outside of the scope of airlines’ control, and thus, they are not obliged to offer compensation. This includes flights to and from any areas affected by a travel warning or ban.
Airlines must abide by travel restrictions, as well as protect the health and safety of their passengers and crew.
What happens if I am stranded at the airport due to a coronavirus flight cancellation?
If you’re stranded at the airport because of a cancellation you may also be entitled to care from your airline, including:
Food and drink.
Access to communication.
Hotel accommodation where necessary.
These are rights as laid out by European regulation EC 261, and apply to passengers departing from an EU airport. However, outside of the EU, these rights may vary.
How do I return home if I am stuck in another country after a coronavirus flight cancellation?
If your flight was canceled due to coronavirus while you were in a foreign city or country, you may still ask for a replacement flight, even where travel bans are in place. However, as the availability of replacement flights may be affected, you may need to consider alternative methods of transport.
Most countries will allow you to return home if you are a resident, though they may require you to undergo several health checks or be quarantined to ensure that you are healthy.
Where can I ask for a new ticket if the airline or travel agency is unresponsive? Do I get airline refunds due to coronavirus?
Please be patient, as many airlines and travel companies are currently overwhelmed with requests and may take some time before they can accommodate you.
If your airline or travel agent is unresponsive, do check what advice they have on their website. Many airlines are allowing you to make changes to your tickets yourself online via their app or website.
You may also find they have already answered your question in their FAQs or on Social Media.
When am I still entitled to compensation for canceled flights?
Flights that have been canceled because of the current coronavirus travel restrictions don’t qualify for compensation, as it is considered an extraordinary circumstance, which means that it’s outside of the scope of airlines’ control.
But flights canceled for other reasons, for example, because of a technical issue or operational problems, are still eligible for compensation just as they would be normally. AirHelp will be assessing claims not directly related to coronavirus on a case-by-case basis, so if you think your flight may be eligible for compensation, find out how much you’re owed with our Compensation Checker.
What if I no longer want to fly?
Many airlines have announced special measures allowing passengers to change their flights on their websites. If you decide not to travel due to the coronavirus, you should contact your airline to find out what their refund policy is, or to see if they have specific guidelines covering the outbreak.
How do I protect myself against coronavirus on flights?
It’s recommended that all unnecessary air travel should be suspended. However, if you do need to catch a flight, be sure to practice good hygiene by washing your hands frequently, and to comply with general health regulations to avoid contracting the disease. Visit the World Health Organization’s (WHO) site to find out more about how you can protect yourself.
Commonly asked questions about flights affected by coronavirus
Can I get a refund if my flight was cancelled due to Covid-19?
Yes. Especially in the EU, EC 261 makes clear airlines must offer to refund your flight ticket if your trip was cancelled.
Can I claim compensation if my flight is cancelled due to coronavirus?
When it comes to your passenger rights, trip cancellations due to coronavirus always fall under extraordinary circumstances and as a result, do not qualify for compensation. Nonetheless, you are still entitled to care, including free food and beverages, transportation, and accommodation if required.
Will I be reimbursed for hotels, activities, etc if my flight was cancelled by Covid-19?
Unfortunately it is unlikely you'll be reimbursed by the airline for these expenses. EC 261 flight compensation is intended to help with these costs. But as delays or cancellations caused by Covid-19 fall under extraordinary circumstances, i.e. outside of the airline's control, they do not owe compensation. You should contact the hotel etc directly to see what their own refund policies are.
What should I do if I'm offered a voucher instead of a refund for a Covid-19 flight cancellation?
You are not bound to accept a voucher for a coronavirus flight cancellation. You can choose to refuse the voucher and ask for a full refund of your flight ticket. If you do accept the voucher, read the fine print to check details like how long you have to redeem it and whether it can be exchanged for a refund later.
If I accept a voucher for a flight cancelled because of Covid-19, will I still be able to claim a refund?
This will depend on what you agreed to when you accepted the voucher. Passenger rights in the EU say if your trip was cancelled, you should receive a full reimbursement for your ticket, or an alternative flight. But if you have already accepted a voucher instead, it may include wording that waives that right. We urge you to constantly check any documents you are signing and to pay attention to the fine print before committing.
What options do I have if I want to cancel my flight because I don't want to risk catching coronavirus?
If you decide not to take a flight because of coronavirus, call your airline to figure out what their policy on refunds is, as well as if they have any type of detailed guidelines related to Covid-19 outbreaks.
My flights were cancelled because there weren't enough passengers, and the airline blames coronavirus. Will I receive compensation?
Although coronavirus is considered an extraordinary circumstance and exempt from compensation, cancelling a flight due to lack of occupancy because of reduced need is not. This falls under operational reasons. Since it can be hard to determine if the flight was cancelled due to travel restrictions or simply due to poor flight ticket sales, you can use our Compensation Check to see if you are eligible.
Can my travel insurance policy help me with coronavirus flight cancellations?
Not all travel insurance policies cover coronavirus restrictions and policies often vary. Nonetheless, numerous insurance providers are expanding their coverage to take pandemics into consideration, so we suggest that you check with your provider to find out what they cover.
What can I do if the airline or travel agency cancelled my flight as a result of Covid-19?
First, you'll want to request reimbursement for your trip tickets, or a different flight if you still want to travel. Coronavirus falls under extraordinary circumstances, which indicates that the airline is not responsible for the disruption and is also not required to pay additional compensation.
What happens to my trip if there is a Covid-19 outbreak?
If there is a coronavirus outbreak and countries decide to impose border restrictions, your flight might be cancelled. If you were in a foreign city or country when the cancellation took place, in most cases they will allow you to return home on a replacement flight, though you might have to consider using a different method of transportation. Depending on what’s required, you may also need to undergo health checks, provide a recent negative test, or be quarantined.
What are the Covid-19 travel guidelines in the UK?
UK travel restrictions are always changing as coronavirus situation changes. The easiest way to find the latest updates on travel restrictions is to visit the UK government travel site.
AirHelp is here to help air passengers, even in times of crisis. Rest assured, we will continue to protect your rights. Let’s keep working together as a community to stay safe and healthy.
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