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Travel advice: Can I cancel my trip to Italy over coronavirus (and will I get a refund)?

The Department of Foreign Affairs is advising against travel to certain areas of Italy – these are your options if you have a trip booked.

Passengers at Milano Centrale Train Station wear protective respiratory masks
Passengers at Milano Centrale Train Station wear protective respiratory masks
Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

IRISH CITIZENS ARE being advised not to travel to several Italian towns as concerns about the coronavirus grow across Europe. 

This comes as 229 people have tested positive for the virus and seven have died in Italy.

As a result, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on its website has said that there are 10 northern Italian towns it is “advising citizens not to travel to”. 

These towns – Codogno, Castiglione d’Adda, Casalpusterlengo, Fombio, Maleo, Somaglia, Bertonico, Terranova dei Passerini, Castelgerundo and San Fiorano – have all seen travel restrictions placed on them by the Italian government.

Cases of coronavirus have also been confirmed in southern Italy, Austria, Croatia and Switzerland this afternoon. 

China today reported 508 new cases and another 71 deaths as of today, 68 of them in the central city of Wuhan, where the epidemic was first detected in December.

People are also being advised to avoid all non-essential travel to China. 

With Covid-19 now spreading through Europe, and with the government advising against travel to certain areas, travellers may begin to be affected with potential flight or hotel cancellations. 

So, what happens if you have a flight booked and it gets cancelled? 

As of now, neither Ryanair or Aer Lingus have cancelled flights as a result of the coronavirus outbreaks. 

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, Ryanair said that “at present all Ryanair flights are operating as normal”. 

“We will follow all public health instructions that are issued.” 

Similarly, Aer Lingus said it is continuing to “operate flights to and from all destinations on our network”. 

“We will continue to closely monitor the situation and follow all guidelines from the relevant authorities in relation to this issue,” it told TheJournal.ie. 

If flights do begin to be cancelled in the coming days or weeks as a result of the virus, there are a number of options for travellers affected. 

If your flight is cancelled, the airline must offer you a choice between the following:

  • rerouting as soon as possible
  • rerouting at a later date at your convenience
  • a refund

If you choose the first option (re-routing as soon as possible) and are travelling home, your airline must provide you with care and assistance while you wait for the alternative flight. Care and assistance comprises:

  • meals and refreshments as reasonable in relation to waiting time
  • hotel accommodation where an overnight stay becomes necessary
  • transport between the hotel accommodation and the airport
  • two free telephone calls/access to email

More information about passenger rights and flight cancellations can be found here

However, people who are flying to and from countries outside the EU and experience cancellations may face some difficulties with securing refunds or re-routing. 

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Dermott Jewell of Consumers’ Association of Ireland explained that the same policies will apply if flying with an EU carrier outside of the EU. 

However, if the person is travelling with a non-EU carrier to a destination outside the EU, the flight cancellation may not be protected by EU legislation and refunds and re-routing may not be available. 

What if a flight isn’t cancelled but someone doesn’t want to travel anymore? 

Although Ryanair and Aer Lingus have not cancelled any flights, as noted above the Department of Foreign Affairs is advising against travel to some areas of countries as a result of Covid-19, such as Italy and China. 

The Irish Travel Agents Association (ITAA) is advising that Irish travellers and holidaymakers follow the advice of the DFA when travelling overseas. 

With that in mind, some travellers may wish to cancel flights over the coming weeks or months. 

In the instance where someone decides not to travel on a flight they have booked, no refund will be made available, usually, according to Jewell. 

However, with the advice issued by the DFA, Jewell said an argument could be made to an airline that a refund is warranted. 

Once the Department of Foreign Affairs states you should not go to that area, “then that is sufficient reason to be able to say to an airline ‘I’m not going because the Department has suggested that’s the wrong thing to do’” and I have expectations now of a refund, he said.

However, if a traveller simply does not turn up for their booking on a flight, they “won’t get a refund”. 

“At very best, the only thing you may get back would be the airport charges and tax portion of the flight cost,” he said. 

Will refunds be made for hotel cancellations? 

In many instances with online bookings, there is an option to choose ‘free cancellation’ when a booking is made.

This allows customers to cancel their room up to a certain date. 

However, if a customer has already paid for a hotel booking, it is not guaranteed that they will be able to get a refund. 

If someone finds themselves in this situation, Jewell said that they should explain to the hotel staff that the cancellation is being made as a result of the coronavirus outbreak in the area. 

“Maybe they won’t refund you. They might just give you some credit towards another booking at a later date, not necessarily a full refund, but something towards it because they are at a loss,” he said. 

Is it safe to book holidays to Europe at the moment? 

Jewell advises that it is “practical” to hold off on booking trips to any European country for the time being as the severity of the coronavirus situation on the continent is still emerging. 

If someone was to book a trip over the coming weeks, however, Jewell said it is crucial to have travel insurance. 

“I can’t [emphasise it enough], it always pays to get good insurance rather than just the bog standard, basic, cheapest deal you can find because you can almost bet on it that it’s not going to cover issues like this,” he said. 

When purchasing travel insurance, customers should “ask what it excludes, not what it includes”, Jewell said. 

“It will allow them to figure out if they’re covered for this,” he said. 

The ITAA is advising that people travelling abroad ensure they have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) and to obtain comprehensive travel insurance before travel, which will cover all overseas medical costs, including medical repatriation and evacuation. 

Jewell said it is also important to take your health status into account before travelling abroad currently. 

He said people who have pre-existing health conditions “should try to get the best medical advice they can, even if they’re a little bit unsure about whether they should travel or not”. 

“Realistically, it seems that unless you have to go, hold back and don’t be making bookings that could be at risk of cancellation or a loss of money because this seems to be only starting to unfold in Europe,” he added.

In a statement this afternoon, ITAA president John Spollen said: “This is a fast moving situation. Our advice is to speak to your travel agent and get good advice from the experts. 

“ITAA members are monitoring the situation on behalf of their clients on a day to day basis, hour to hour basis on what is a fluid situation. The health and welfare of our customers is paramount and we are ready to advise them, updating the situation when the Department of Foreign Affairs updates us.” 

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