Travel chaos caused by fresh Covid-19 measures gives passengers headaches at tail end of summer

Airlines are ignoring regulators' warnings and refusing to offer refunds to travellers from affected countries.
Airlines are ignoring regulators' warnings and refusing to offer refunds to travellers from affected countries.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - A heap of new travel restrictions has thrown Europe's long-anticipated August break into disarray, dealing a setback to airlines and leaving some passengers on the hook for the cost of last-minute changes.

In the UK, quarantine measures have been reimposed on Spain, France, Malta and the Netherlands.

With infection rates rising, Croatia could be next, creating another headache for would-be travellers who are running out of time as schools reopen.

Ryanair Holdings Plc, Europe's biggest discount carrier, has cut back on schedules, saying the uncertainty has discouraged people from booking foreign trips.

Deutsche Lufthansa AG's Eurowings unit said on Tuesday (Aug 18) it'll reduce capacity to Spain, in response to a German travel warning.

"Airlines are stuck in an awkward place where there's no visibility beyond two weeks, and they're having to ramp down and ramp up and then ramp down again, at short notice," said Mr Mark Manduca, an analyst with Citigroup.

"Every airline is adapting as best they think they can."

An industry proposal to move the UK away from country-based quarantines is gaining momentum.

Covid-19 tests at airports are among the options being considered, said Mr Paul Charles, spokesman for the Quash Quarantine campaign.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is due to meet with ministers on Monday to discuss the alternatives, The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported on Wednesday.

SECURING REFUND

For those who already have tickets, changing plans has become a minefield of terms and conditions that vary by carrier.

 
 
 
 

While customers are entitled to a refund when an airline cancels a flight, they typically have to work hard to get it, such as calling a busy customer-service desk. Carriers are also offering vouchers or rescheduling for free, and making it easier to select these options.

When a flight is still operating but now subject to quarantine, the guidelines are murky.

Airlines aren't obliged to pay cash refunds and generally are refusing to do so on upcoming trips, say, from the the UK to France.

It's left some travellers with the choice of staying home and shouldering the ticket cost, paying expensive fees to change dates and destinations, or chancing the journey and a potential quarantine on return.

Schools have already opened in the UK, leaving families with fewer options.

Airlines are ignoring regulators' warnings and refusing to offer refunds to affected countries, said Mr Rory Boland, travel editor at Which?, an independent UK consumer-advice service.

He called for reforms to strengthen the UK Civil Aviation Authority.

"Passengers will not easily forget how they have been treated through this period," Mr Boland said.

"The impact on trust in the travel industry has been devastating."