When most of us think of travelling we think of cheap air travel. Whether it be a winter ski trip, city break of summer holiday, it usually involves a flight or two.
Will it ever be the same again? This is a question many of us are asking ourselves, particularly as Europe begins to open its borders on a quarantine-free basis and airlines take to the skies, once again. For the moment though, nobody seems to have the answers.
In April billionaire investor Warren Buffett announced his company Berkshire Hathaway had sold all of its shares in the 4 US largest airlines, sending their shares tumbling and citing Coronavirus as the reason and who would bet against his judgement?
There are some positives for airlines on the horizon in that low demand for oil has driven oil prices down which should help. But demand for seats is the largest unknown they face and with some cause for concern. It’s likely that many airlines will offer airfares at very low prices to attract the cautious flyers back into their seats, but if seats aren’t filled, or restrictions are put into place to allow for social distancing, then this will drive prices up and this will surely affect demand.
The other problem facing travellers and airlines alike is: “what will the experience be like?”. Will people want to travel if the already uncomfortable and irritating security screening, boarding, and disembarking process is added to by the introduction of health screening and questionnaires when exiting and entering borders? Will this mean we have to be at the airport 3 hours before a flight and what will be the increased cost of this borne either by the traveller or airline?
So, air travel will most likely not return to normal for some time and many well-known airlines may disappear from our skies.
The Covid-19 pandemic has also caused massive disruption to the travel insurance market after the announcement that borders were closing and travel bans, even within countries, were put in place. Like many businesses in other sectors, including the airlines, their sales fell through the floor overnight.
This sudden fall in sales coupled with the unprecedented claims levels experienced, which the Association of British Insurers (ABI) puts at a record high and has estimated claims totalling £275m for Coronavirus alone, is a huge burden for these insurers to bear in a product line that has traditionally lived off thin margins. It’s due to these extraordinary levels of pay-outs that some insurers have already announced that they are pulling out of the travel insurance sector all together. This may ultimately lead to less competition and higher premiums.
So, what does this mean for the traveller who still wishes to travel and has trips outstanding and insurance purchased before the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) introduced travel restrictions to all other countries? If you haven’t already, you should consider the following:
If travel arrangements are cancelled by the airline, travel or accommodation provider due to Covid-19 then travellers who booked their trip via a tour operator or travel agent or using a credit card, should contact them to see if they can get a refund or have their trip re-arranged.
If you are offered an alternative destination and or dates from your travel agent, then you should speak to your travel insurance provider and ask them to shift your insurance policy to fit the new trip. Some insurers will consider this if the new trip is for the same duration and to the same location or geographical area. There may be an additional premium payable depending on the insurer.
In the event that you are unable to move the trip to an alternative destination, and are offered a refund from your travel agent or tour operator, then you should also speak to your travel insurer to ask for a premium refund as the cover you originally requested is no longer required. You may be required to complete a form to confirm that no claim will be made against the policy, for your insurer to accept this.
But what if you don’t want to travel because of your fear of catching the virus?
Standard travel insurance policies provide cancellation and curtailment cover for any costs incurred that cannot be recovered from anywhere else for stated reasons only. However, no standard travel insurance policy will cover cancellation and curtailment due to a disinclination to travel and this is usually a standard exclusion on any policy.
In such cases, if you have booked a package holiday to a destination affected by Coronavirus and travel restrictions are now lifted, but you no longer wish to travel, in the first instance you could look to contact your travel agent or tour operator to arrange new dates. If this is not possible or is possible but you still choose not to travel you will bear the full cost of this yourself.
However, if you are unable to amend your trip and have a medical justification for having to cancel, then this may be a basis where you can make a claim under your policy and in this case should contact your insurer.
But what happens if you do travel and get ill?
If you catch Coronavirus whilst on your trip or require medical treatment, then cover may be in place for emergency and necessary treatment under most standard travel insurance policies (subject to the usual policy terms and conditions).
Travellers should be aware though, that travel insurance policies are not private medical insurance policies, meaning that there is no cover for any medical expenses incurred in private medical facilities or where treatment could have been received under reciprocal health agreement (unless approved by Underwriters and no other suitable medical facilities are available).
If this is the case, then clients must contact the Emergency assistance team noted on their policy schedule as quickly as possible.
If you are travelling within Europe it is advisable that you also carry with you your European Health Card.