Laws and declarations are often made with the best intentions, but when you restrict something, you create entirely new issues, many of which are unforeseen. There’s plenty of debate around the efficacy of launching a 14 day travel quarantine two months after the rest of the world, and the impact it will have on many things, but there’s been very little talk of how it will directly impact airline customers in a categorically negative way.

No More Refunds

Airlines have gone to incredible lengths since the outbreak of covid-19 to restrict refunds, including re-coding websites to remove the refund button entirely. When they’re not re-coding websites, airlines around the globe have attempted to side step refund laws, by going as far as to redefine the word cancellation.

Ultimately though, passengers had rights, and as long as the airline cancelled the flight, not the passenger, a positive conclusion was generally reached. Not now, thanks to the UK’s 14 day quarantine rules. On the news, many airlines announced plans to reboot flights, and since those planes which wouldn’t have been flying now will be, passengers lose their right to refund.

That’s correct, even if you can’t travel due to the 14 day quarantine requirement, the airline can now stick you with a voucher, at best. You’d have to rely on travel insurance to actually recoup the cash for the trip.

In case you need to brush up on airline cancellation and refund rules, here’s a primer, and here’s a clarification made by the EU stating exactly what airlines must honor during these times, and what they’re off the hook for.

How Can That Be?

Airlines across Europe lobbied to remove the refund option in an attempt to hold onto customer cash, but that move proved unsuccessful. The UK just handed airlines their “get out of refunds” free card, by creating a situation where airlines can fly planes, but passengers with previous reservations won’t likely be able to board them.

It’s fair to say that it was always up to the airline as to whether they’d cancel the flight or not, so the UK Government isn’t at fault there, but the government’s quarantine plan now makes it harder for any customers to actually realize their holiday, or return home to the UK.

  • Visitors who planned to visit for a short amount of time won’t be able to.
  • Brits won’t be able to travel because of the 14 day stay at home upon their return.
  • Airlines will get to say “plane is flying”, so you get nothing, or a voucher at best.

Workers who must report to a job site simply can’t call out sick for two weeks upon return due to the quarantine needs, and now they are unlikely to be able to get a refund when they decide they can’t travel accordingly. The UK Government has just handed airlines the get out of refunds card they’ve hoped for on one hand, while handing them a death sentence, by crippling travel demand on the other. Thanks, Boris?

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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7 Comments

  1. I don’t think this is likely in most cases

    There is definitely a scenario where flights will fly and the airline will refuse to refund. This is already happening in a small number of cases e.g. BA to the USA. Voucher or insurance only.

    But by offering a voucher they are just deferring having to fly you to a later date, whilst incurring the cost of operating empty flights in the meantime. So it’s far more likely that the current very limited operation would continue and most can just be patient and wait for a cancellation and full refund.

    The other possible scenario is airlines stop offering vouchers out of goodwill for flights that operate. But at this point they’ve been selling so few tickets since March they would still be loosing money doing this on most flights I think.

    Funnily enough though, for those with travel insurance this would be a better scenario- some providers are denying claims where a voucher is given.

  2. How is this different from the current FCO guidance: Do NOT travel and airlines still refusing refunds / directing people to vouchers?
    Personally, I agree that the Sunday announcement and follow up yesterday were unclear and to an extent contradictory (esp. French are OK but other Schengen nationals aren’t) but mandatory quarantine has been used by multiple countries and proved a useful tool. Boris and his cronies may be 2 month late to the party (4 by the time it’s implemented) but it doesn’t make the actual measure any less useful in managing CoVid in a population of over 60million.

  3. Booking non-refundable travel now is crazy, so this quarantine won’t make much difference – and we’ve been pre-warned, unlike, for example, the US which banned Europeans with no notice. Just because something is not what we want, doesn’t make it evil, or even wrong.

    Of course I’d rather not have the ban, and have the certainty of being able to plan fully but, speaking as someone who has today booked flights to the US for November and again for January, I made sure that I could get them refunded if I decide not to travel.

  4. NB – agree with you completely. I’m in US and had to cancel a trip to Germany for March. Luckily the airline actually cancelled one leg so I got a refund. I’ve rebooked it for November but used points this time (got a great deal for business class). Worst case I can pay $150 and have the point redeposited to my account. Best case the airline waives the redeposit fees but I agree with you that booking ANY flights, especially international ones, without buying a refundable fare or using points that could be redeposited for, at worst, a reasonable fee before maybe Q2 2021 is crazy. Only exception (at least to me) is some REALLY cheap fare like $100 r/t US east coast to Las Vegas or LA what I could just not show up for and really not lose much – those I’m willing to gamble on.

  5. I don’t think there will be any way to check UK citizens are quarantined.

    And what stops you from booking a test for when you arrive and then if it comes back negative ignoring the rule?

    I also don’t think that 14 days off work will be an issue as no one is at work!

    I plan on travelling as soon as I can. Hopefully July but these rules don’t put me off.

  6. Does this apply to transit passengers on Virgin Atlantic? I have a 4 hour Heathrow layover.

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