In times of uncertainty about the advancement of the new coronavirus, passengers' doubts are growing about what rights they have if they want to cancel or postpone a trip. “I have a flight in two weeks, what do I do? What if I travel and have to be quarantined, how do I return home? Is it worth it to have travel insurance? And do hotels have to reimburse me? ”
Several airlines around the world are canceling flights with origin and destination in the areas most affected by the new coronavirus – and in Portugal it was even decreed to suspend air tickets to and from Italy, at least, until March 23. In addition, Morocco suspended flights to Portuguese territory – just as the United States did worldwide. And the hypothesis of restrictions imposed by Portugal on air borders with Spain was not ruled out, on Sunday, by the Prime Minister, António Costa.
This uncertainty has already echoed in the airlines: TAP, for example, was forced to cancel 3,500 flights due to low demand. And the travel agencies contacted by the Observer who responded in good time also revealed a slowdown in activity. Without giving figures, Agência Abreu says that “there is a general breakdown in the entire tourism sector that has yet to be quantified, with a slowdown in the intention of reserves”. Viagens el Corte Inglés notes that consumers are canceling, “but mainly to postpone trips, especially until September”.
With the next days, and months, representing an unknown quantity, information is needed to make decisions, warns the Portuguese Association for Consumer Protection (Deco), which launched a support line (213 710 282) to answer questions to ( potential) passengers. Although there are general rules, there are cases that, due to their specificity, are the subject of particular recommendations.
On average, Deco is receiving 500 calls a day. “We found a lot of scattered information, various types of information for the consumer, clauses, in our view, quite ambiguous that made it difficult for the consumer to choose”, says the FOCER coordinator of the legal and economic department of Deco, Paulo Fonseca. What rights do you have and how to activate the response mechanisms? Ten answers to help you make informed decisions (but, even so, do not make it impossible for the traveler-reader to contact the respective agencies or airlines).
For now, and taking into account the current scenario, the answer depends on your destination.
The European Consumer Center has already issued a recommendation for travelers to confirm in the Portuguese Communities Portal whether the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has issued an alert for the country of destination or not. Currently, in addition to the suspension of flights to Italy, there are restrictions for the Chinese province of Hubei – the epicenter of the pandemic – and travel to the entire People's Republic of China, Iran and, in South Korea, to the cities of Daegu, is discouraged. and Cheongdo and Gyeongsang-buk province.
In the case of trips where the destination represents a threat to the health of the passenger (such as those mentioned above), the “may, if he wishes, terminate the contract itself and obtain full reimbursement of amounts that have been paid”, invoking an “unavoidable exceptional circumstance” – which, according to the European directive, includes pandemic situations.
Paulo Fonseca considers, however, that the guidelines of the Portuguese authorities must be “clearer”. This is because, for example, Spain is not on the alert list of the Portal of the Portuguese Communities, but the Government has already banned the travel of finalists to that destination, as well as the entry of tourists across the land border (and advised against travel not necessary for the foreign). “There cannot be a recommendation not to take trips and this later does not have an official repercussion in the channels of communication with citizens or in public portals”, points out Paulo Fonseca.
Still, travelers should always contact either the travel agency or the airlines to find out before making a decision – not least because several countries have already suspended foreign nationals during the pandemic. In addition, there are countries for which, although they have not been considered at risk by the authorities, promoters or airlines may be allowing cancellations or postponements at no cost.
If you want to cancel a trip to a low-risk site, where there is no advice in making the trip – suppose, Brazil – the amount of reimbursement depends on the contractual conditions and may not be 100% guaranteed. "A termination fee may be applied to you, which must be provided for in the contracts," explains Paulo Fonseca. The consumer may, however, try to justify to the airline or agency that the trip may pose a risk to his health and is under extraordinary circumstances. In that case, you may be entitled to a refund. Worth trying.