Coronavirus, strikes…: your rights as travelers
Flight cancelled, trip postponed, positive COVID-19 test, strike in airports, health passes a,d certificates... The COVID-19 pandemic and the airline or airport strikes announced for this summer may still disrupt your vacation plans. What are your rights if your flight or trip is cancelled? What are the consequences for your separately booked accommodation? Who should you contact? All the answers to your travel questions in our FAQ.
Advice before leaving on vacation
- Check until the day of departure the access conditions to the destination country as well as the connection countries. Health regulations, travel documents (identity papers and/or visas) or entry conditions can change overnight. You should also consider the rules for returning to your home country, which may change during your stay.
Find out about the entry formalities for each European country and the restrictions on :
- the Re-open EU platform
- the website of your Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the embassies and consulates of your residence country as well as in each country you visit or pass through
- Before leaving, check that your health pass meets the requirements of your destination country. In some countries, vaccination requirements call for a booster even if you have already contracted COVID.
- If you are not fully vaccinated or if your second dose (or single dose of Janssen vaccine) is more than 9 months old, you will need a PCR or antigen test. Find out if you can be tested at the airport and how much the antigen test costs. More information in our article "covid-19 screening: where to get tested in Europe?
- If you are flying, get to the airport early enough on the day of departure (3h or 4h before departure). Be careful! If you don't show up for boarding because of a long queue at the airport screening center or at the security checkpoints, you will not be able to ask the airline for a refund of your flight, nor for compensation.
Strike, Covid-19... Your rights in case of flight cancellations
The carrier cancelled your flight. Is the cancellation of other services booked separately automatic?
No, if you purchased tickets only, the cancellation of your flight does not cancel your hotel, rental car or any other service you booked separately and reimbursement of these services is not automatic or guaranteed..
Check the cancellation conditions for your reservations to find out what amounts could be refunded. Contact the hotel owner, the vehicle rental company, the owner of the accommodation to at least negotiate a postponement if there is no provision for reimbursement.
The company that cancelled the flight is not required to reimburse you for these lost benefits.
If your flight is maintained but you ask for your tickets to be cancelled because you can no longer or do not want to leave (e.g. positive covid test), your right to a refund will depend on the terms of your tickets.
If they cannot be changed or cancelled, there is no guarantee of a refund.
In the current health context, many airlines offer flexible booking conditions (paid or free of charge) which allow you to change your flight or obtain a credit note if you are prevented from travelling.
However, you must generally make your request within a certain period of time before departure. Contact your carrier as soon as possible.
Before making any request to the company, make sure you check whether you are entitled to a refund or only to a modification of your tickets. If you ask for a cancellation when only a modification was possible, you risk losing the amount of the tickets.
If your flight was cancelled because of Covid-19, you will not be able to claim compensation because it is an exceptional event, unavoidable and external to the company.
If your airline gives another reason for cancellation, check whether it is an exceptional circumstance.
Regarding flight cancellations due to strikes, a distinction must be made between
- the strike of the airline staff which gives you the right, in principle, to compensation ;
- a strike by airport personnel (security agents, air traffic controllers, etc.), which constitutes an extraordinary circumstance and exempts the airline from paying you compensation.
Check your carrier's website for the exceptional measures offered and the refund procedures, there are usually dedicated forms.
In the event of a dispute with a European carrier that cannot be resolved amicably, contact the ECC of your residency country.
I bought a flight which has been cancelled via an online booking platform or agency, who should refund me?
If you did not buy your tickets on the airline's website but via a booking platform, price comparison website or online travel agency, you will have to apply for a refund or credit note to this intermediary first.
Legally, the airline is obliged to provide a refund, but in practice, you have to go through the intermediary to obtain it. The intermediary is a relay between you and the airline and must communicate the carrier's proposals to you. The intermediary is not obliged to reimburse in place of the airline and it is not the intermediary who decides whether to offer a refund or a credit note.
If you are blocked, contact the airline to check whether your request for a refund has been issued by the intermediary, whether the refund has already been validated at that intermediary or whether the airline refuses the refund on principle.
If you are considering legal action to get your tickets refunded, don't take the wrong person! You will have to take legal action :
- against the airline if it is the airline that refuses to refund your tickets via the intermediary;
- against the intermediary if the airline confirms that the refund has been passed on to the intermediary but not returned to you.
Be aware of the statute of limitations for legal action! If your carrier refuses to reimburse you for the credit, you must take legal action. But the time limits to take legal action are not the same everywhere in Europe. For example, they are only 1 year in Belgium, 2 years in Italy or 5 years in France.
Example: your cancelled flight took off or landed at Brussels airport, you have one year from the cancellation of the flight to take legal action before the Belgian courts against the airline company that offered you the voucher and refused to reimburse you.
Each insurance has its own conditions. It is therefore important to check what it covers and especially what it excludes. Most insurances exclude pandemic situations in particular and therefore will not reimburse you for this reason alone.
Cancellation insurance generally covers an event that is specific to you (health problems, loss of identity documents, cancellation of holidays by the employer, etc.). They do not cover travel restrictions imposed by a government or events that occur in the destination country (political crisis, natural disasters, etc.).
Good to know: some insurances provide "COVID" options which will mainly cover the case where you are tested positive at the time of departure, but not alack of vaccination, PCR test, a new restriction or an increase in contamination at destination.
If a strike leads to the cancellation of your flight by the company, the insurance does not cover this situation since it is up to the company to offer you a re-routing or a refund of your ticket.
If the strike affects another mode of transportation (the train for example if the train and plane tickets were purchased separately) which prevented you from taking your flight, ask your insurance company about your guarantees.
Tip: Consider the flexibility options offered by the carrier when you book. They may allow you to get a credit note for whatever reason you are unable to travel.
All the questions about the health pass, vaccination and Covid-19 tests can be read in our articles
Cancelling your accommodation booking
If you cancel your hotel, campsite or holiday rental, you cannot be sure of a refund, whatever the reason given (fear of the virus, medical reasons, professional impediment...).
The reimbursement of your accommodation will depend solely on the conditions of your reservation (cancellable AND refundable) or on the goodwill of the hotel or accommodation owner.
The possibility to cancel does not automatically mean that there will be a refund
First contact the French hotel owner or the owner of the accommodation and try to negotiate a postponement of your stay or a credit note. Then contact the platform on which you made your reservation.
The intermediary platform can help you to facilitate the cancellation of the reservation with the hotel or the owner of an accommodation (cancellation free of charge, modification of your reservation ...).
But be aware, these online platforms remain intermediaries that connect a buyer and a seller so they have no obligation to refund the price of your reservation. Find out about the support and reimbursement policies implemented by the platform used for your reservation.
Please note that in France, as in many Member states it has been decided that in case of cancellation of touristic services due to Coronavirus, companies may offer a voucher instead of a reimbursement. For further information, please contact the European Consumer Centre of your country of residence.
Package travel (flight + hotel for example) and Covid-19 or strike
A package travel is composed of at least 2 touristic services (flight + hotel for example) purchased from a single trader in a single contract or separately, but from the same sales point. A cruise is also a package holiday.
If the travel agency cancels your trip, you are in principle entitled to
- either an equivalent alternative trip (other destinations, other dates, etc.),
- or to a refund of the sums paid.
In March 2020, during the 1st wave of Covid-19 in Europe, many countries had authorised tourism professionals to offer consumers a credit note for an amount equivalent to the trip, valid for several months, refundable in case of non-use within the set period. This was the case, for example, in Poland, Italy, Finland or France, which in its order of March 25, 2020, authorised credit notes of 18 months for any trip cancelled between March 1 and September 15, 2020 inclusive.
The scheme in most countries has not been renewed after 2020 and if your agency cancels your trip, you are entitled in principle to a refund of the sums paid or to an equivalent alternative trip.
The agency cannot impose a refund in the form of a credit note. You are free to decide whether or not to accept this method of reimbursement.
If your trip has been cut short or extended due to the cancellation of your return flight or the closure of your hotel, it is up to your agency to take care of your return. Contact them.
They should book you on an earlier flight or a later flight if your original flight was cancelled by the agency or airline. If you have had to organise your own return journey because the agency has not responded to your request for a return flight, ask for a refund of the expenses incurred (on presentation of proof of payment).
If you have not been able to take advantage of touristic services already paid for because of a delay in arrival or early repatriation (prepaid excursion, lost nights, etc.) or if you have had additional nights (delayed return), you can also ask your agency to reimburse you for these expenses, up to a limit of 3 nights and on presentation of the supporting invoices.
- In case of a cross-border dispute with a European travel agency, contact the ECC of your residence country
- If you are a French resident, in a dispute with a French agency, contact the Tourism and Travel Mediator.
Please note: if all the services are maintained but you cannot use the return route because of a containment measure or a positive COVID test, the agency is not obliged to pay for your subsequent repatriation and additional nights. Contact your cancellation insurance or your credit card insurance.
When you book your trip, you can take out cancellation insurance. This can cover you in the event of serious illness, redundancy or the death of a relative. Read the clauses of the insurance contract you have signed carefully to check whether the reason for your cancellation will allow you to obtain a refund of the sums paid.
Be careful! In most cases, climatic risks (cyclones, tsunamis, etc.), health risks (dengue fever, etc.) and political risks (terrorist attacks, civil war, etc.) are excluded from these insurance policies.
When booking, some travel agencies offer a Covid-19 supplementary insurance that covers Covid-19 related situations. Examples: you contract the virus before or during the trip, you are in contact and have to isolate yourself, or the airport staff refuses to let you board the plane because your temperature is too high.
Beware! The simple fear of falling ill, the adoption of new health restrictions in the country of destination, border controls or travel bans issued in France are not sufficient reasons to cancel your trip free of charge.
Benefits differ from one insurance policy to another. Before you sign, read the policy carefully to see if, for example, the insurance will reimburse your trip if you test positive after departure, if it will reimburse your costs for quarantine on the spot, or even your hospitalisation costs. You should also check who to contact in the event of a problem, because even if it is the travel agency or the company that sold you the insurance, the trip and the insurance are quite distinct contracts and the people you have to deal with may be different.
Good to know: you must take out Covid-19 travel insurance to travel to a number of countries such as Argentina, the Bahamas, Brazil, Cambodia, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, etc. Check whether the country you wish to visit requires Covid-19 insurance.
Credit notes received for cancelled flights, trips or holidays
If your flight has been cancelled by the airline due to COVID-19 and you have received a voucher or flight credits, you may be wondering what to do if you cannot travel before the validity period expires.
- If the airline has not given you a choice between a refund of your ticket and a credit note for a future flight and your voucher expires without being able to be used, you still have the right to request a refund from the airline or the intermediary who sold you the dry ticket. Contact your carrier!
If you have a cross-border dispute with a European airline that cannot be resolved amicably, contact the ECC of your residency country
- If you initially had the choice between a credit note or a refund and you chose the credit note, it will not be possible to demand a monetary refund afterwards. The conditions of use and duration of the credit note are set by the airline and there is no legal obligation for it to be refundable on expiry or to be renewed by the airline.
If you have not used the voucher you received after cancelling your booking, you are not sure you will get your money back. In the absence of European harmonisation on accommodation rules, your credit note will depend on the legislation of the country where your accommodation was located.
- If local law allows you to get your money back when the credit is due, contact the hotel or accommodation owner in writing.
- If the law of the country in which your accommodation is located does not allow for a refund, contact the hotel or accommodation owner to try to negotiate an extension of the credit as a commercial gesture.
Examples of countries that provide for a refund of the credit note: Portugal, Italy, Greece.
Beware! Italy and Greece have postponed the validity of credit notes. You will only be able to request reimbursement 30 months after their issue in Italy and from the end of June 2022 in Greece.
Contact the ECC of your residence country to find out about the legislation of another European country in which your hotel is located.
Yes. If you received a voucher following the cancellation of your trip or stay between 15 March and 15 September 2020 and you have not yet used it, you may request a refund.
Indeed, the vouchers covered by the French ordinance of 25 March 2020 are in principle valid for 18 months (or a maximum of 21 months, since the tourism professional (travel agency, hotel, tour operator, etc.) had 3 months from the date of cancellation to offer you this voucher). At the end of this period, if you have not used it, you are entitled to a refund of the amounts paid.
- contact the tourism professional in writing to ask for a refund of your cancelled trip within a reasonable period of time (14 days for example). Don't forget to enclose the voucher you received.
- If you do not receive any answer or a negative answer from the hotel owner or travel agency, contact the European Consumer Centre of your residence country.
If you have received a credit note following the cancellation of your flight by the airline, you are not concerned by the announcements of reimbursement of vouchers covered by the French ordinance of 25 March 2020. Indeed, this ordinance, which authorised tourism professionals to offer credit notes following the cancellation of trips or holidays due to Covid-19, did not cover flight only cancellations (or train, boat and bus tickets).
Tip: If the airline did not give you a choice between a refund and a credit note and your voucher expires, ask the airline or the intermediary who sold you the ticket for a refund.
Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Innovation Council and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Executive Agency (EISMEA). Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.